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).

Cooking up a relief race in Burma

Reporters or imaginers?

“Tiger vs Dragon again, this time to help Myanmar” announces a headline in DNA. Seema Guha, who wrote that article, ‘reports’ that India and China are competing to send relief to cyclone-hit Burma.

It’s a very good example of very poor journalism.

First, it is undeniable that countries can use their participation in international humanitarian relief efforts, in part, to boost their stature. It is also undeniable that Burma is among the countries in the region where the geopolitical competition between India and China manifests itself. But to link these together and claim that there is some kind of a humanitarian relief race on is absurd. Perhaps Ms Guha could point out cases in the neighbourhood where India did not intervene because there was no geopolitical prize. She can’t, because there isn’t one. India would have participated in humanitarian relief efforts even if, and perhaps especially if, no other country had come forward. So, what ‘race’?

Second, the report presents facts that contradict its conclusions. It announces that “China was first off the block when it pledged $1 million as initial aid for relief and rehabilitation. On Wednesday, a Chinese Boeing 747-400 landed in Yangon carrying 60 tonnes of emergency relief material.” But it then goes on to say that “Earlier on Monday, two Indian Navy ships, INS Rana and Kirpal, were dispatched with initial aid from Port Blair. The ships reached Yangon Port early on Tuesday morning and anchored four miles from the harbour, awaiting offloading.” So how is it that China was “first off the block” when its aircraft arrived a day after the Indian ships?

Third, Ms Guha forces her own conclusions down your throat, despite the people she quotes saying the very opposite. Both the people interviewed—a JNU professor and a foreign ministry official—emphatically denied that India’s relief operations are motivated by a “race”. Yet, Ms Guha and her editors saw nothing out of place in publishing the report as they have.

It might even have been excusable if Ms Guha’s article had appeared as an op-ed. But it’s being offered as reportage. What a shame.