Just how callous can governments be?

And why the option of airdropping relief supplies to Burma’s disaster victims should not be dismissed

The numbers the Burmese junta killed while suppressing pro-democracy protests last year fade in comparison to the numbers they’ve killed in the last two weeks.

India’s state-run Meteorological Department said it had alerted Burma two days before the cyclone struck. The department’s spokesman, B P Yadav told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday: “Forty-eight hours in advance we informed the Burma weather department about the likely area of landfall as well as time and intensity of the cyclone.” [The Irrawaddy]

“I’ve never seen an emergency situation such as this before,” said Greg Beck, Asia regional director of the International Rescue Committee. “A week after the disaster, the entire humanitarian community is still sitting in another country, outside the affected area, looking for means to access the disaster zone.” [WP]

Burma has deported the few aid workers in the country after declaring it is “not ready” for foreign search and rescue teams following a devastating cyclone. [Herald Sun]

Update:Dozens of aid experts are reported to be waiting for visas in neighbouring Thailand – but the Burmese embassy there has now closed for a public holiday until next Tuesday. [‘BBC’]

The larger point is that there are few instruments to hold the junta’s leaders criminally liable for these deaths. Sins of omission are seldom punished.

Frustrated by the junta’s refusal to open its doors to international humanitarian relief, the US state department proposed airdropping relief supplies without their permission. It was shot down by the US defence secretary on the grounds that it would violate Burma’s sovereignty. Similarly, the French foreign minister proposed an international humanitarian intervention under the “responsibility to protect”. The usual UN logjam stopped that. (China, Vietnam, South Africa and Russia argued against the UN Security Council getting involved. “China’s envoy compared the crisis to a deadly heat wave in France in 2003, questioning why the Security Council should step in now when it did not do so in the French case”)

At times like this it is useful to recall Operation Poomalai (Eagle Mission 4).

3 thoughts on “Just how callous can governments be?”

  1. and the significant aspect about Poomalai is not that the supplies went through to Tamils in Jaffna but that the supply drop conveyed the right message to Colombo.

  2. When all foreign policy is viewed through a single lens ( energy in the case of the MMS govt ) then you will end up making such mistakes. Time for India to start planning of how we should counter peak oil, instead of just searching for supplies for energy. Lots can be achieved by moving quickly on urban mass transport, passing on the real fuel costs to the people ( Don’t worry, Indians would come with creative jugaad solutions to counter Petrol at Rs 75 a litre )
    On Mayanmar, its probably time to bypass the leader ship ( and there fore ending the dreams of getting gas, at least in the short run ) and do the airdrop. The Junta will turn to China. Will this lead to India China conflict ? Unlikely, as China will get the gas it wants ( at least for now ) and has no real incentive to do anything beyond that. The biggest danger would be the extra bases for the NE militant groups.

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