Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A catastrophe of monumental proportions

What's happening in Burma right now is becoming way worse than anything that's happened in recent history, in large part because the military junta there is actively preventing aid from reaching their own citizens in desperate, desperate need. Supplies are being stolen from aid packages for the military, and rotten provision are being substituted and handed out to the smallest fraction of those in need. It's too bad they don't have oil. What kind of human being does this to his fellow citizens?

The U.N. said Myanmar faces a catastrophe of monumental proportions unless relief efforts reach the scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami, as soldiers barred foreign aid workers from reaching cyclone survivors in hard-hit areas.

Supplies were piling up at Yangon's main airport — which does not even have equipment to lift cargo off Boeing 747s. It took 200 Burmese volunteers to unload a plane carrying more than 60 tons of relief supplies, including school tents, said the United Arab Emirates aid group, Dubai Cares.

State television said the death toll from Nargis Cyclone stood at 34,273, with 27,838 missing. The United Nations says the actual death toll could be between 62,000 and 100,000.

Survivors were packed into Buddhist monasteries or camping in the open, drinking water contaminated by fecal matter, with dead bodies and animal carcasses floating around. Food and medicine were scarce.

The international Red Cross said its delegation in Myanmar found an urgent need for more medical supplies in the Irrawaddy delta.

"During the cyclone, many people held onto trees to avoid being blown away," Red Cross official Bridget Gardner said. "They were almost 'sand blasted' by dirt and saltwater; (many) lost the top layer of their skin and it's important that these injuries are treated before infections can set in."

The few foreigners experienced in managing catastrophes who have succeeded in reaching the delta in recent days have been forced to return to Yangon. Checkpoints manned by just two officers Monday had 10 or more on Tuesday.

Some victims and aid workers, meanwhile, said in many cases spoiled or poor-quality food was reaching survivors.

A longtime foreign resident of Yangon told The Associated Press angry government officials were complaining that high-energy biscuits rushed in on the World Food Program's first flights were sent to a military warehouse.

They were exchanged for what the officials described as "tasteless and low-quality" biscuits produced by the Industry Ministry to be handed out to cyclone victims, he said on condition of anonymity because identifying himself could endanger him.