States, aid agencies offer to help storm-hit Myanmar

Myanmar faces hardships after cyclone

As cyclone toll hits 15,000, rush is on for U.S., international groups to aid Southeast Asian nation

Wire services
May. 6, 2008 12:00 AM

YANGON, Myanmar – Food, clean water and medical supplies could still be days away for victims of a cyclone that devastated Myanmar and killed as many as 15,000 people.

As U.S. and international aid groups scrambled Monday to send help to victims of what would be Asia’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami, government and media reports confirmed fears of a spiraling death count from the storm’s 12-foot tidal surges and high winds that swept away bamboo homes in low coastal regions.

In this photo released by Democratic Voice of Burma, damaged ...

State television confirmed fears of a rapidly rising toll today, reporting that 10,000 perished in the town of Bogalay in the country’s Irrawaddy delta.

Foreign Minister Nyan Win said on Myanmarese television that the overall death toll had reached 15,000, according to the Reuters news service. He added that 3,000 more remain missing.

An advertisement board is blown down by strong wind on a street ...

The ruling junta, an authoritarian regime that has cut the nation off from the international community for decades, appealed for foreign aid to help in the recovery from Saturday’s disaster, the country’s deadliest storm on record.

First lady Laura Bush said the U.S. government had rushed $250,000 to aid organizations operating in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. However, she said further aid could be delayed because Myanmar’s government, one of the world’s most isolationist military regimes, has not yet agreed to allow a U.S. disaster-response team into the country.

 

“The response to this cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failures to meet its people’s basic needs,” said Bush, who has made criticism of the regime’s record on human rights one of her signature causes.

The casualty count has been rising quickly as authorities in Myanmar reach hard-hit islands and villages in the Irrawaddy delta, the country’s major rice-producing region. The region bore the brunt of Cyclone Nargis’ 120-mph winds.

Residents of Yangon, a former capital of 6.5 million, said they were angry that the government failed to adequately warn them of the approaching storm and has so far done little to alleviate their plight.

“The government misled people. They could have warned us about the severity of the coming cyclone so we could be better prepared,” said Thin Thin, a grocery-store owner.

Some in Yangon complained the 400,000-strong military was only clearing streets where the ruling elite resided, while leaving residents, including Buddhist monks, to cope on their own against the huge tangles of uprooted trees.

“There are some army trucks out to clear the roads, but most of the work was done with a dah (knife) by the people. Some of these tree trunks are 4 feet thick,” said Barry Broman, a retired U.S. State Department officer who was in Yangon when the cyclone struck. “Thousands of trees were uprooted. All the roads were blocked by the trees.”

If the numbers are accurate, the death toll would be the highest from a natural disaster in Southeast Asia since the tsunami of December 2004, which killed 229,866 people as it devastated coastlines in Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of Southeast and South Asia.

Hundreds of thousands were left homeless and without clean drinking water, said Richard Horsey, a spokesman in Bangkok for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The diplomats said they were told Myanmar welcomed international humanitarian aid, including urgently needed roofing materials, medicine, water-purifying tablets and mosquito nets. The first 10-ton shipment was scheduled to arrive from Thailand today. The appeal for outside assistance was unusual for Myanmar’s ruling generals, who have long been suspicious of international organizations and closely controlled their activities. Several agencies, including the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, have limited their presence as a consequence.

Allowing any major influx of foreigners could carry risks for the military, injecting unwanted outside influence and giving the aid givers rather than the junta credit for a recovery.

However, keeping out international aid would focus blame squarely on the military should it fail to restore peoples’ livelihoods.

Although relief talks with the government were still ongoing, the U.N.’s Horsey said it appeared the U.N. had the “green light” to send in a team to assess the storm’s damage as early as today and would pull out all the stops to send in food, clean water, blankets and plastic sheeting.

The cyclone came just a week before a crucial referendum on a military-backed constitution, and the government’s ineffectual warning system and inefficient effort to recover from it so far could sway angry voters to reject the charter.

“The combination of the cyclone and the referendum within a few days of each other makes an angry population angrier and vulnerable and makes the political situation more volatile” than it has been since major pro-democracy demonstrations last September, said Monique Skidmore, a Myanmar expert at Australian National University.

Although warnings were broadcast on television that 120-mph winds and 12-foot storm surges were predicted, no guidance was given about taking shelter.

In any case, the electricity supply is so spotty in Myanmar that few households, especially in the poor rural areas that were worst hit, would have been aware of the warnings.

Australian FM: Focus on aid to Myanmar; blame game can wait

HONG KONG (AP) — The international community should focus on humanitarian aid to Myanmar instead of criticizing the ruling junta’s handling of the deadly cyclone, Australia’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

Stephen Smith’s comments come a day after first lady Laura Bush rebuked Myanmar’s authoritarian junta for not warning citizens about Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which hit the Southeast Asian country early Saturday.

Myanmar’s official media said Tuesday that at least 10,000 people had been killed by the storm. A U.N. agency said as many as 1 million people may have been left homeless.

Smith told reporters after a speech in Hong Kong that it remains difficult to evaluate how the disaster played out in Myanmar because of patchy communications.

“I just don’t think we’re in a position to make that sort of judgment now given the difficulties of communication. And also, frankly, it’s not, in my mind, the priority. The priority now is rendering assistance to thousands of displaced people who urgently need our assistance,” he said.

Smith said Australia was “ready, willing and able” to offer humanitarian assistance to Myanmar and will most likely start with a financial donation. He didn’t give an amount, but said he hopes the Myanmar government will be open to on-the-ground assessments of aid needs.

Bush also said the U.S. was ready to pump more aid into Myanmar but said help was conditioned on a U.S. disaster response team being allowed in the country. In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy in the country is already providing $250,000 from an emergency fund.

But the first lady also faulted the junta for proceeding with a May 10 constitutional referendum that she described as a sham. The junta says the referendum is part of a “road map to democracy.”

Myanmar’s government has been widely criticized for suppression of pro-democracy parties such as the one led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for almost 12 of the past 18 years.

On Tuesday, Smith noted Australia’s past concerns about the country’s junta, but he did not criticize the government’s disaster response. In February, Smith said Australia wasn’t convinced the constitutional referendum was “anything more than a cynical sham.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has started mobilizing assistance and resources for Myanmar, a member country, through its humanitarian assistance coordinating center, said Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, in Singapore. The organization appealed to its other members to send aid as well.

Surin said that the group is considering tapping into its emergency rice stockpile to provide emergency food to the country.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has also pledged assistance to cyclone-hit neighbor Myanmar, the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency reported.

US: Myanmar junta failed to warn people on cyclone

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US First Lady Laura Bush accused Myanmar’s military rulers of failing to warn their citizens in time about a killer cyclone and pressed the junta to accept US aid in the disaster’s wake.

“Although they were aware of the threat, Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path,” Bush said Monday in an unusual appearance at the White House briefing room podium.

“It’s troubling that many of the Burmese people learned of this impending disaster only when foreign outlets, such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, sounded the alarm,” she said. Washington calls the country Burma.

Laura Bush, who has taken a leading role in shaping US policy towards Myanmar, said Washington “stands prepared” to increase its assistance well beyond an initial emergency 250,000-dollar outlay by the US embassy in Yangon.

She declined to give a precise dollar figure, saying the junta first had to allow a US disaster assistance response team into Myanmar to assess the scope of the devastation from Tropical Cyclone Nargis’s weekend rampage.

“I can’t speak to how large that would be. But I feel assured that it would be substantial, if we can give it,” she said, promising help to provide water, sanitation, food and shelter.

Bush made clear any assistance would go through the United Nations or international nongovernmental organizations — and not directly to a regime under US sanctions for failing to embrace democratic reforms.

“I hope that the military will realize they have to accept aid from everybody they can possibly accept it from. And maybe that will be the something good that can come out of this terrible destruction,” she said.

More than 15,000 people died after the powerful cyclone swept across Myanmar, including 10,000 in a single town, the military government announced in its latest update of the death toll.

The US State Department Monday issued a travel warning for US citizens in Myanmar, telling them to strongly consider leaving the country, and advising all other Americans to “defer non-essential travel” there.

Laura Bush declared that “the response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

She also warned the regime against holding a planned constitutional referendum Saturday and said that her husband, US President George W. Bush, on Tuesday would sign a law giving imprisoned democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor US lawmakers can bestow.

“That’s important,” said the first lady, who called the award a way to “let the people of Burma know that the United States is standing with them.”

She denounced the referendum, saying the regime “orchestrated this vote to give false legitimacy to their continued rule” and that “it would be very, very odd, I think, if they went ahead.”

Laura Bush cited violence against the opposition and noted that Aung San Suu Kyi — under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years, following her party’s sweeping victory in 1990 elections that the junta ignored — would be barred from holding office under the draft constitution.

“If it proceeds under current conditions, the constitutional referendum they have planned should not be seen as a step toward freedom, but rather as a confirmation of the unacceptable status quo,” said the first lady.

“We appeal to China, India, and Burma’s fellow ASEAN members to use their influence to encourage a democratic transition,” she said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

At the same time, Laura Bush acknowledged Washington had “only anecdotal” evidence that its sanctions — which the US president further tightened last week — were having an effect on Myanmar’s leaders.

Asked whether she worried that US aid might not reach Myanmar’s people, Laura Bush replied: “I’m worried that they won’t even accept US aid.”

The source of such concerns was unclear. The head of a UN office that coordinates humanitarian aid said the junta had shown their willingness to accept such aid.

 

States, aid agencies offer to help storm-hit Myanmar

Mon May 5, 2008 10:42am EDT
May 5 (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military authorities gave the United Nations permission on Monday to send emergency aid to help the hundreds of thousands of victims of this weekend’s cyclone, a U.N. spokesman said.

State television reported that nearly 4,000 people were killed and thousands were missing.

Here some quotes from government and aid agency officials:

WFP SPOKESMAN PAUL RISLEY IN BANGKOK

“The government indicated willingness to accept international assistance through the U.N. agencies. I’d say it was a careful green light. The U.N. will begin preparing assistance now to be delivered and transported to Myanmar as quickly as possible.”

WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN SCOTT STANZEL

“We are concerned about the reports coming out of Burma and mourn the loss of life. The U.S. embassy is in touch with Burmese authorities. The ambassador there has released some assistance funds under her authority and that money will go through the World Food Programme and other aid entities. It doesn’t necessarily go directly to the government. But we’re in the process of assessing what more we can do.”

INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT

“In keeping with India’s historical, close and good neighbourly ties with the friendly people of Myanmar, the Government of India is providing immediate relief assistance to Myanmar.

“Two Indian naval ships from Port Blair with relief and medical supplies will sail immediately to Yangon carrying food items, tents, blankets, clothing, medicines, etc.”

EU OFFICIAL ON EUROPEAN COMMISSION RESPONSE

“We have put extra humanitarian staff on standby and the Commission is ready to provide humanitarian aid as quickly as possible once it has more information about the needs.

“Communications with the country are extremely difficult but we have been able to make brief phone contact with the Commission humanitarian expert in Yangon, who has visited areas most affected by cyclone.”

BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICER MINISTER MEG MUNN

“We are deeply concerned by the situation in Burma in the wake of cyclone Nargis, and saddened by the terrible loss of life. The priority must be to mobilise aid to all those affected to avoid further suffering. We call on the Burmese regime to provide rapid support to its people and to accept international assistance.”

SINGAPORE FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Embassy in Yangon are closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

“Our Embassy has been in touch with a majority of the Singaporean community in the country and will continue to try to contact the remainder.

“There have been no reports thus far of any injuries to any Singaporean as a result of Cyclone Nargis.

“Separately, Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo has written to his counterpart, Foreign Minister U Nyan Win, to convey his sympathies and Singapore’s offer of humanitarian assistance.”

ELISABETH BYRS, SPOKESWOMAN, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS (OCHA)

“I have no confirmation regarding the formal request,” she said on whether the Myanmar government would ask for aid.

“The formal request has not been issued. But we have information that assistance may be welcome. We are quite optimistic.”

MATTHEW COCHRANE, SPOKESMAN FOR THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT SOCIETIES

“The needs are clean water, a common need after a disaster when access to clean water can be blocked.”

Noting that the agency had a delegation in Myanmar, he said: “We’ve been able to have access in situations like this to get in to do the work we need to do.”

OFFICIAL FROM WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANISATION

“Any tropical cyclone, if you are not prepared, then that will be a disaster. If you are prepared enough, the disaster will be reduced to a minimum,” the official who declined to be named said.

Myanmar junta criticised for proceeding with vote

Myanmar junta criticised for

proceeding with vote

Mon May 5, 2008 8:46am EDT

Reuters

Updates with new death toll, edits)

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK, May 5 (Reuters) – Critics of Myanmar’s military rulers slammed the junta on Monday for pressing ahead with a May 10 constitutional referendum a week after a powerful cyclone left nearly 4,000 dead and thousands more missing.

In a typically brusque statement, the regime said it would “keep striving to hold hands with the people” to see its seven-step democracy roadmap through to completion.

It also added that the former Burma’s 53 million people were “eagerly looking forward to voting” on the army-drafted constitution.

Many of those in the storm-blasted Irrawaddy delta and Yangon might differ as they pick through what is left of their homes looking for missing possessions and loved ones.

“They should not go ahead under these circumstances,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), told Reuters. “It’s is absolutely inappropriate.”

The party, led by detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is campaigning for a “no” vote.

“They should show their goodwill toward the people by cooperating with the international community, but we have seen no sign of that goodwill.”

The army-drafted charter is a key step on the planned road towards multiparty elections in 2010, although critics say the constitution is unacceptable as it allows the army to retain too much power.

The former British colony has been under military rule since a 1962 coup.

State media said nearly 4,000 people were dead and nearly 3,000 missing from Cyclone Nargis, which tore through the Irrawaddy delta on Saturday before slamming into Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon. The death toll is likely to rise.

Disaster zones have been declared in five states with a total population of 24 million people.

REFERENDUM PRIORITISED

Myanmar exiles criticised the government for prioritising the referendum, and suggested the cyclone could have been a blessing in disguise for the junta.

“This is unbelievable. They don’t care their own people are suffering,” said Win Min, who fled Myanmar after a 1988 pro-democracy crackdown in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed.

“People are preoccupied by survival. They won’t say no to the constitution. The military can go house to house, intimidate people to vote in favour. They’ll help the homeless and tell them to support their constitution.”

Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said the junta could use the cyclone to manipulate the vote and delay the announcement of the result.

“We’re dealing with a very authoritarian regime,” he said. “They’re immune to criticism and they’re so proud. They won’t ask for foreign help and risk compromising the referendum. It’s their baby and they’re ready to go ahead with it.”

On Monday, Yangon was without electricity and running short of clean water. Candles and batteries were hard to find and many sturdy buildings were without roofs.

“We are completely preoccupied with the struggle for daily survival,” said one Yangon shop owner. “We can’t find time and money to mend the roof. Don’t ask me about the referendum.” (Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Ed Cropley)

SNAPSHOT-Latest developments

after Myanmar cyclone

May 5 (Reuters) – Here are the latest developments on Monday following Saturday’s devastating Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

HEADLINES

– 3,934 killed, 41 injured and 2,879 missing within the Yangon and Irrawaddy divisions, says Myanmar TV. The death toll is expected to rise as it only covers two of the five disaster zones.

– U.N. says Myanmar accepts international aid offers, shipments being prepared at once. U.N. says hundreds of thousands of people are without shelter and drinking water.

– Soldiers and police kill 36 prisoners after riot at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison in chaos following cyclone, Thailand-based human rights group says.

– Cyclone was a Category 3 storm, with winds of 190 kph (120 mph).

– Junta leaders say they will go ahead with May 10 referendum on a new army-drafted constitution that critics say will entrench the military.

QUOTES

“Last time, they came here, just like ants, from where I don’t know.” – Yangon resident, comparing the reaction of security forces when they cracked down last September on Buddhist monk-led protests against the military junta. “Now I can’t see any — no army, no police.”

“The lights went out, we have no water.” – local trader, washing in a lake in Yangon. “The storm destroyed so much, I have to take a bath here.”

“We know that it’s several hundred thousand needing shelter and clean drinking water, but how many hundred thousand we just don’t know.” – Richard Horsey, U.N. disaster response office.

“The government indicated willingness to accept international assistance through the U.N. agencies. I’d say it was a careful green light. The U.N. will begin preparing assistance now to be delivered and transported to Myanmar as quickly as possible.” – World Food Programme spokesman Paul Risley.

Rights group says 36 dead after prison riot in Myanmar

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Soldiers and police killed 36 prisoners inside Myanmar’s most infamous jail to quell a riot that started in the devastating wake of Cyclone Nargis, a Thailand-based human rights group said on Monday.

(My comments: Amongst them how many of them are Political Prisoners?)

After the storm ripped zinc roof sheets of many cell blocks, guards at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison herded around 1,000 prisoners into a large hall and locked the doors, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) said.

 

The men lit a fire to get warm, but thick smoke quickly filled the building, sparking panic.

 

“The situation escalated and chaos ensued,” the AAPPB, one of the most reliable sources of information about conditions inside military-ruled Myanmar’s gulag, said in a statement.

 

“In order to control the situation, soldiers and riot police were called in. They opened fire on the prisoners in that area. Thirty-six prisoners were killed instantly and around 70 were injured,” it said.

 

With most telephone lines into the former Burma severed and the Internet down, it was impossible to confirm the report with another source.

 

Cyclone Nargis killed at least 4,000 people, and left another 3,000 people missing, state media said.

 

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

 Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

While the words might change from country to country and are sometimes taken for granted, human rights

represent one of the universally agreed upon ideas — that all people are born with basic rights and freedoms that include life, liberty, and justice. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations.

Bloggers Unite For Human Rights challenges bloggers everywhere to help elevate human rights by drawing attention to the challenges and successes of human rights issues on May 15. What those topics may include — the wrongful imprisonment of journalists covering assemblies, governments that ignore the plight of citizens, and censorship of the Internet. What is important is that on one day, thousands of bloggers unite and share their unified support of human rights everywhere.

HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE:

Before May 15th, add a badge to your blog and spread the word.

On May 15th get the word out and blog about a human rights issue!

Spread the love, share your post in the Bloggers Unite Group.

 

Source for this post: Bloggers Unite – Amnesty International

and Susan Loone’s Blog