Sunday, May 25, 2008

Myanmar cyclone

The earthquake in Sichuan is a terrible natural disaster. But there is a general feeling that people are doing everything humanly possible to help the victims. Those who can, rush there to rescue, deliver supplies, treat the wounded, care for the orphans, ... Those who cannot go there in person can contribute with their money and there is a huge sense of camaraderie all around.

In contrast, there is a huge sense of helplessness watching the aftermath of the cyclone in Myanmar. So far, the military junta seems to be more concerned about possible “bad”foreign influence than the plight of the dead, the dying, the hungry, the homeless, and the sick. For three weeks, they have been blocking most assistance to the cyclone victims, and refusing entry of foreign aid workers. Given the poor economy of the country, they are actually in greater need than the people in Sichuan.

There is a stark contrast between the situation in China and Myanmar. China today gives the impression that there is genuine hope for the better, while Myanmar seems to be going from bad to worse.

But this was not the case not too long ago. This photo is not of Myanmar - I have never been there. But this photo of the lush green fields of Hubei taken last July reminds me of my image of Myanmar 40 years ago - that it was one of the three “rice barns” of the world, together with Thailand and Vietnam. The weather was perfect and the soil was fertile for growing rice. As a result, Rangoon was so prosperous that a sizable Chinese community grew up there. Today the economy is in ruins, the Chinese community has shrunk and the prospect is increasingly bleak. Vietnam went through a terrible war but is clearly on the mend now. But Myanmar (Burma) is steadily getting worse.

The cyclone is not the real problem that Myanmar is facing today. It is much more a man-made disaster, and it started a long time before the cyclone hit the country.

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