Recent reports estimate that more than 130,000 people are dead or missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit the country’s Irrawaddy delta. Shari Villarosa, who leads the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 140,800 because of illnesses and injury. Adds the World Food Programme, “Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out.”
The United Nations projects that as many as 1 million were left homeless; and the World Health Organization “has received reports of malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area.” Yet in the critical days following this disaster, Myanmar’s isolationist regime complicated recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies into the Southeast Asian nation. Similarly, the junta continues to reject the United States offer to provide much-needed assistance, although on May 13, the first U.S. military transport plane was allowed to land, bringing 14 tons of medical supplies, mosquito nets and blankets. The government’s failure to permit entry for large-scale international relief efforts was described by the United Nations as “unprecedented.”
The Burmese Foreign Ministry stressed its capability in handling the aftermath of the cyclone and insisted that it was not ready to accept large-scale foreign assistance.
AP news stories state that foreign aid provided to disaster victims was modified to make it look like it came from the military regime, and state-run television continuously ran images of Gen. Than Shwe ceremonially handing out disaster relief.
More than a week after the disaster, only one out of 10 people who are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger have received some kind of aid.
According to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, “A natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions in significant part because of the malign neglect of the regime.”