Burma: Dispatches From a Nightmare


In the wake of the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis in Burma, “huge sections of the Irrawaddy Delta lie cut off from the outside world,” writes Paul Danahar for the BBC in Southern Burma. “Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas,” says one blogger in Rangoon. “No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don’t know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water.”

Below, more excerpts from this week’s world press coverage of the crisis.

Burma, burmadigest in Burma Digest blog:

Yangon is Ground Zero; there are no more big trees left…Army Battalion no. 11, 22 and 77 are clearing the big roads. Otherwise, it’s mostly kohtu kohta (self-help). Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas…

No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don’t know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water…People are using water from Inya Lake….

Petrol was 10,000 kyats to the gallon yesterday (maybe less today, because the govt. petrol pumps are selling petrol today). Candles have gone up from 100 to 300 kyats for a medium-sized candle; chicken is 10,000 kyats to the viss; eggs are 280 kyats (100% increase); pebyoke (baked beans) is 400 kyats for 10 ticals (doubled price)…

Tin roofing has gone up from 5000 to 30,000 kyats. General labourers are charging 7000 kyats per day just to drag logs away…

Rangoon has gone backwards 20 years.

Germany, Jürgen Kremb in Der Spiegel:

The Burmese dissident had actually only intended to call to let SPIEGEL ONLINE know he was still alive, but his phone call sounded more like a cry of outrage.

He had spent hours dialing the telephone just to get a connection outside the country. If Burma’s ruling military junta discovered his call, they might have charged him with “subversive contact with foreigners” and punished him with a long prison sentence and torture.

“It looks like the end of the world here,” he shouted into the telephone when he finally got a call through to Singapore on Tuesday morning and could tell SPIEGEL ONLINE about the situation in Rangoon after Cyclone Nargis wreaked havoc on the city. “Everything is destroyed, we have no drinking water and nothing to eat. Tens of thousands must be dead. Hundreds of thousands are homeless.”

UK, Stephen McGinty in the Scotsman:

The helicopter, flying low over the paddy fields of the Irrawaddy delta, allowed the passengers on board a view down into a sodden hell. Scattered like grains of rice by the powerful winds of the cyclone and the destructive power of the tidal wave it whipped up, were the bodies of the lost—thousands upon thousands of men, women and children.

Yesterday, the death toll caused by cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma on Saturday at about noon, rose to 22,464, with a further 41,054 missing, according to the suspiciously precise figures of the country’s military dictatorship. Yet fears were growing last night that those who survived the hand of nature may still succumb to the clumsy fist of their government which, despite calling for global assistance, continued to hold back international aid agencies on its borders.

Almost 60 years of suspicion towards the outside world will not be blown away overnight, but the effects of the worst cyclone since Bangladesh was struck in 1991, killing 138,000, may yet prise open the doors of this secretive nation now faced with a rising death toll and as many as three million people displaced by the disaster, according to Save The Children. The nation’s leaders appear to be hedging their bets, aware of the necessity of finding a way to provide the destitute with life-saving water, food, clothes and accommodation, but fearful of the future ramifications of opening their borders to agencies they previously dismissed as riddled with spies.

Yesterday, a single aid plane touched down in Rangoon, while across the world aid agencies remain wrapped up in red tape. The flight from friendly Thailand landed at Rangoon’s Mingaladon airport, but its £200,000 cargo of food, water and mosquito nets, brought in on a Royal Thai Air Force C130 was unlikely to make the slightest dent in the national catastrophe.

Thailand, Nophkhun Limsamarnphun in the Daily Express:

Burma’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology was told of the formation of Cylcone Nargis a week in advance, but the country was not prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

Bhichit Rattakul, executive director of Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC), said yesterday that one of the first warnings came from the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, which issued an alert on April 27…

According to Bhichit, a former science minister and Bangkok governor, the data were passed on to authorities in several countries in the region, including India and Burma.

Korea, Sean Turnell in the Korea Herald

So where do Burma’s generals hide all the money they keep away from the state’s budget? No one but the generals knows for sure. An inspection of the vaults of the country’s Foreign Trade Bank might be a good place to start, however, as well as those of some accommodatingly unscrupulous banks offshore.
Whatever the precise location of Burma’s riches, these hoards enable the junta to spend at its whim. A nuclear reactor, a new capital city, military pay increases—all of these and more have been on the menu of late.

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