More Bad news from Myanmar

The New York Times is reporting that the United Nations has suspended relief supply to Myanmar because the military has seized the food and supplies that were delivered earlier this week.

Paul Risley, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, said, “all the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated.” He said the World Food Program was suspending the few flights that the Myanmar authorities had so far allowed to enter the country until the matter was resolved.

Myanmar said it had turned back one relief flight because, in addition to disaster relief supplies, it carried disaster assessment experts and an unauthorized media group

As international aid organizations scramble to facilitate any aid that might possibly reach the people stranded and starving following the cyclone, the government in Myanmar will not process visa applications and turns away flights that contain aid that it says also contain unauthorized personnel.

In New York, United Nations officials all but demanded Thursday that the government open its doors.

“The situation is profoundly worrying,” said Mr. Holmes, the United Nations official in charge of the relief effort, speaking in unusually candid language for a diplomat. “They have simply not facilitated access in the way we have a right to expect.”

Mr. Holmes’s predecessor in that job, Jan Egeland, said, “children are going to die from diarrhea because of this government’s inaction.”

The military junta has said it is “grateful to the international community for its assistance — which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid supplies — but the best way to help was just to send in material rather than personnel.” One wonders what exactly the international aid community can expect the junta to do with that “material” in light of its inability to warn and care for its citizens.

I don’t have enough words for how angry and outraged I am. ETA: I can think of a few more super powers I’d like today.

Updated 2:00pm EST: NPR is reporting that the UN World Food Program will resume aid flights, though the first shipment of high energy biscuits are still confiscated and have not yet been released by the military junta controlling Myanmar: “[World Food Program spokesman Paul] Risley said that Myanmar’s refusal to allow international aid workers into the country was ‘unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts.’” But storms are brewing – literally:

A U.N. weather agency is forecasting heavy rains next week in Myanmar.

The official death toll from Saturday’s cyclone and tidal surge stands at nearly 23,000. But officials fear it will go much higher, with the lack of safe food and water.

Like hot and humid weather following Katrina, the atmosphere compounds the problems made already untenable by government idiocy of intolerable levels. (Thanks to Lucinda Betts for the link)

ETA: Shiloh Walker is hosting a charity auction of a heaping pile of ARCs and signed books, the proceeds of which go to Save the Children. Bid early, bid often.

 

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  1. 1
    Angelle says:

    Myanmar is under the junta military control.  I doubt any of the aid materials will reach its citizens.

  2. 2
    snarkhunter says:

    One regional director of the World Food Program was described as “furious” in the story I read, and, yeah. They’re all being really blunt, even as world leaders are all but *begging* Myanmar’s junta to let them in.

    This is just sickening. You know that food won’t reach the people it needs to reach.

    I keep thinking about the drops we did for West Berlin in the 40s. I wonder if there’s any way the US or the UN could just drop food packages from helicopter or something. I mean, it would cause chaos, but it’s got to be better than letting everyone just…die.

    (Confirmation word: ill95. Damn straight I’m ill from this. God.)

  3. 3
    MeggieMacGroovie says:

    W. T. F. Bastards…sick, sick bastards…

    I am getting a Bruce Cockburn flashback. (insert Myanmar and the sea, and yeah..pretty much the same damn story)

    “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”

    Here comes the helicopter—second time today
    Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
    How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say
    If I had a rocket launcher…I’d make somebody pay

    I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate
    I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states
    And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
    If I had a rocket launcher…I would retaliate

    On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
    To fall down from starvation—or some less humane fate
    Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
    If I had a rocket launcher…I would not hesitate

    I want to raise every voice—at least I’ve got to try
    Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
    Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
    If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die

  4. 4
    MeggieMacGroovie says:

    Ok, ok…not that I think violence serves anyone much long term goodness…however…it can be cathartic as all get out.

    Right…back to what you were all saying….

  5. 5
    snarkhunter says:

    Just…FYI, Save the Children is actually on the ground in the delta. They already had people in-country when the cyclone hit, and they’re distributing aid as best they can. I’m not sure how they’re going to get the items they need into the country, but if you’re still looking for a charity, that’s at least one that’s in-country and not still struggling with the junta to get in.

  6. 6

    Dear God.

    This is horrifying. 

    There’s got to be a way to get help inside. I’m not much on the idea of forcing anything on people if they don’t want it.  But this isn’t ‘people’ refusing.  It’s a bunch of arrogant, self-centered bastards, from what I can tell.

    So force the bastards to take the help-or rather, force them to stand aside while the UN goes around them.  There has to be a way to make that happen.

    If not, I want that to be my superpower.

  7. 7
    Winter says:

    For what it’s worth, apparently Avaag.org is getting in aid by giving it to the International Burmese Monks Organisation, who then funnel it in to the monks, who have been providing a good deal of the in-country aid.

    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/burma_cyclone/77.php

    Security Word:  and75   And maybe it’ll help.

  8. 8
    Randi says:

    First of all: I am royally pissed. This is just egregarious. I’m for Snarkhunter’s idea of dropping packages.  But…does Myanmar have air space and if so, how well are they really patrolling it right now? Hmm…

    Winter: the question remains, if there is nothing to buy, how does giving them money help? Apparently people do have some rice and water they are selling at 500% price increases, but that can’t last much longer. So, OK, the monks, and Unicef, and Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders, and all the others that were already there-we can get them money but does that really help anything?

    What would the ramifications really be if the UN just stormed Myanmar? I mean, it’s an island. Getting from one place to another has got to be a nightmare at this point, with roads washed away, and rotting bodies everywhere. What could happen if a slew of countries just pushed their way in?

  9. 9
    Suze says:

    What would the ramifications really be if the UN just stormed Myanmar? I mean, it’s an island. Getting from one place to another has got to be a nightmare at this point, with roads washed away, and rotting bodies everywhere. What could happen if a slew of countries just pushed their way in?

    Even if they’re a bunch of fuckheads, they’re still a sovereign nation, and they’re not threatening anyone but their own people.  Invading them because we enlightened westerners think they’re doing a crappy job would be setting a BAD precedent.

    Not that said bad precedent hasn’t been set already, but can we righteously invade Myanmar for obscene fuckheadedness when we’re merrily going to the Olympics in China, ignoring their chronic but less-often-reported fuckheadedness?

  10. 10
    Flo says:

    I knew this would happen.  The junta control is absolute.  It’s Somalia all over again.  The aid MIGHT come in to the country but it will never ever reach the people who need it.  The junta will use it as a lever to confirm their power over the people.  It’s awful but it’s the only way they can have their control.

    The funny thing is people are starting to think “Why don’t we just fucking go in and give help?  Fuck these junta guys!”  And it will never ever happen.  Because half the UN is made up of dictators who control their countries just like this.  And they cannot set a precedent of other countries going in with force to supply aid.  So there will be a lot of hot air and shouting and the people who have been hurt by this will suffer more.

    Not to mention if the US stormed in to help… well people would hate us MORE!  Woe is us!  Frankly I wouldn’t give a shit as long as the people were helped.  We have enough clout around the world to go “Well you don’t like us helping people?  Fine, we’ll pull back our food supplies and trade with you!”  It would be an interesting situation.  But at this time, with one presidency changing over to another soon, it’s not a good idea.

    world23 – if we were only one world, but sadly we’re 348759348753984758345 little countries who only give a fuck about ourselves.

  11. 11
    dillene says:

    Speaking of China- I’m not exactly a flag-waving fan of the Chinese regime, but they may be in the best position to provide aid right now.  China and Myanmar share a border, and (I think) are diplomatically cordial.  If China wants to improve its world image, then this would be an excellent opportunity for them to do so, provided that they can convince the junta to allow them in. 

    All of this has probably occurred to the Chinese, but I wonder if they would pursue it?

  12. 12
    snarkhunter says:

    Actually, the UN does have the ability to go in regardless of what Myanmar’s junta says. There’s some kind of dire need exception—if the government isn’t helping in a humanitarian crisis, the UN can intervene to bring relief. It’s unlikely that they’ll implement it, though.

    However, while it’s true that half of the UN are dictators themselves, everyone’s been saying that there has NEVER been anything like this. A wholesale turning away of relief? You can absolutely feel everyone’s frustration…

    The US is trying to convince Myanmar to let us drop packages from helicopters. I say we should do it regardless, assuming they don’t have airspace…

  13. 13
    Suze says:

    if the US stormed in to help… well people would hate us MORE!  Woe is us!  Frankly I wouldn’t give a shit as long as the people were helped.  We have enough clout around the world to go “Well you don’t like us helping people?  Fine, we’ll pull back our food supplies and trade with you!”

    See, this kind of thing disturbs me.

    There’s a very fine line between not letting anything get between you and doing good things to help people, and barging in where you have no business and acting like you have the only right answers.

    Yes, the junta are fuckheads, and yes, the people of Myanmar are in desperate need of help.  But the same was true in Katrina on a lesser scale (you may remember that Bush was refusing foreign aid), and can you imagine what would have happened if Israel had charged in and said Fuck you FEMA, we don’t approve of how you’ve screwed things up, and we’re saving your people for you!  (I was trying to come up with a country to illustrate the might=right thing, but the US is really the only superpower left.  I chose Israel because it appears that, per capita, they’re the most heavily-armed nation on earth.)

    It’s a horrible situation, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to make it better.  There are lots of ways to make it worse, though.

    I really, really like the idea of dropping aid packages directly to the survivors, but I don’t think it can be any one country doing it.  The power dynamics would just be too fraught.

    A rogue, multi-national, charitable group could get away with it, since their countries could help, but later be able to plausibly deny their participation in an international incident.  The UN could do it, if they spun it the right way.  A single country really couldn’t, without stirring up HUGE sovereignty issues.  And after invading Iraq and making noises about invading Iran, the US absolutely couldn’t do it unilaterally without losing even more international face.

  14. 14
    AgTigress says:

    Speaking of China- I’m not exactly a flag-waving fan of the Chinese regime, but they may be in the best position to provide aid right now.  China and Myanmar share a border, and (I think) are diplomatically cordial.

    China – surprise, surprise – is saying that it is entirely up to the Burmese givernment to decide what is to be done, and what kind of assistance, if any, to accept.  The fact that ordinary, innocent people are dying like flies from the results of a huge natural disaster cuts no ice with regimes that are concerned only with the dynamics of their own power and control.  Such rulers quite possibly regard it as a loss of face to permit foreign aid – they would rather see their citizens die in droves than be succoured by foreigners.  Can we doubt that China itself would be equally unwilling to accept outside aid in the case of a disaster?

    It is a crime against humanity for the junta to block the aid that is being freely offered, not only by other states, but also by completely non-political and immensely experienced international organisations like Médecins sans Frontières. 

    The immediate and generous response of the international community to disasters of this kind is one of the few things today that reminds us that there is still much good in the human species.  When countries accept help, in the way that those affected by the Asian tsunami did a few years ago, not only does it save many lives, but it is good for the souls of both the givers and the receivers, building connections instead of barriers.  To be denied that opportunity is outrageous.

  15. 15
    Joy says:

    Haven’t you read “A Modest Proposal”  or heard the phrase “let them die, they’ll reduce the excess population”.  Starvation is a time honored technique of control, sadly enough.  Darwinian politics at its best.

    Been to Ireland lately.  It’s impossible to miss the remains of potato fields from the Great Famine or the ruined homes.  (Though the Celtic Tiger has meant that many folks are buying up those tragic remains to build vacation homes and the EU membership has meant a lot of sales to French tourist wanting a cheaper vacation home than the south of France.)

  16. 16
    lijakaca says:

    Here’s the latest from the BBC:

    UN to resume Burma food flights

    The World Food Programme says it will resume aid flights to Burma on Saturday, despite a row over the local authorities impounding deliveries

    On the MSF site they’ve announced that they have a plane arriving tomorrow in Myanmar.

  17. 17
    SandyO says:

    According to news reports, there is talk of possibly dropping food in Myanmar.  http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iMdE3DHmw_OnIgMke_gl-5oGleOA

    And I completely second the fact that the regime in Myanmar is a bunch of fuckheads.

  18. 18
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I suspected that any politically linked aid efforts were doomed. I just hope that the private charities will have some success in delivering supplies. The monks, Save the Children and possibly World Vision may be the best hope.

  19. 19
    Agnes says:

    Good points from Suze about the limits of the UN vs. national sovereignty. And the paranoia on that subject is not limited to foreign dictators (google “black helicopters” for the US-grown version).

    The UN does have the legal authority to invade a sovereign country, but this would require a vote from the security council including 9 votes (out of 15) including the totality of the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US). The non-permanent members include some not-so upstanding “citizens” (starting with Lybia), but it might be possible to get four extra votes from more democratic countries (Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Indonesia, Italy and South Africa are current non-permanent members). France was pushing in that direction yesterday, from the headlines I have read. But as long as China, a permanent council member, goes against, tough luck.

    And the problem is time. Reaching a decision and gathering a force for what would have to be a full military intervention (with its own cost in lives) could take weeks, if not months. By that time most of the damage (cholera…) would be done. Diplomacy is probably the best bet right now.

  20. 20
    Brandyllyn says:

    Just throwing this out there:

    My brother (a US Marine), is currently on exercises in Thailand.  The unofficial word is that all Us armed forces personnel in the area are geared and up ready; and the moment (if it ever comes) that Myanmar opens its borders they are ready to go in.  Mostly for body details – which is sad, as consensus seems to be that the Myanmar government won’t let the US military anywhere near any other relief efforts.

    That’s of course assuming that they let in foreign personnel aid at all.

  21. 21
    daisyj says:

    There are so many things to hate about this situation, but for some reason the one that really sticks in my craw is the fact that, as reported in a CNN.com story I read, one of the things that was causing delays for aid workers was the fact that the Myanmar consulate in Thailand was closed today for a holiday.

    Hey guys, you know what? Your people are homeless, injured and dying and another storm is on its way in. Do you think maybe you could pretend to care, just a little bit? (Answer: no.)

    On other topics: I have a feeling that a full-on invasion would end up doing more harm than good, but I’m holding out hope for some screw-you-guys-we’re-giving-these-people-some-food airlifts, whether or not it’s strictly legal.

  22. 22
    Flo says:

    I think the whole soverign country thing can be thrown out the window when they let their own people suffer to this extent.  When a country will not provide food or shelter or even take a proper body count, when they won’t allow nonpolitical aid into the country, and when they take the aid that IS given and hold it back from the people… then they can take their sovreignty and shove it.

    Sometimes you have to stop worrying about the politics and just go in and do the damn right thing.  If we viewed this as more of a world problem than a country problem this might never have happened to this extent

  23. 23
    Julie Leto says:

    It would have been incredibly embarrassing for the US to accept foreign aid after Katrina…for Pete’s sake…we’re one of the richest nations in the world with the deepest pockets in terms of charity.  If we can’t help our own people, then who can?

    I’m not saying he should or shouldn’t have refused…help is help.  But damn, how crappy of us…well, how crappy of Louisiana.  Because the other states that were just as devastated by the storm managed to help their own people just fine.  I have a good friend who works for FEMA out of Mississippi and they were not only totally prepared for the storm, they had help on the road before the storm was completely over.

  24. 24
    Suze says:

    I think the whole soverign country thing can be thrown out the window when they let their own people suffer to this extent.  When a country will not provide food or shelter or even take a proper body count, when they won’t allow nonpolitical aid into the country, and when they take the aid that IS given and hold it back from the people… then they can take their sovreignty and shove it.

    Sometimes you have to stop worrying about the politics and just go in and do the damn right thing.  If we viewed this as more of a world problem than a country problem this might never have happened to this extent

    But which times?  Where do you draw the line?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sickened by this, and if going in and slitting some throats would get the job done, I’d be sharpening knives.

    But this is really a matter of scale and news coverage.  Killing your own people to maintain power happens in many countries, every day.  Most of it doesn’t make the news.  How do you pick one incident and one country and say, “This is not acceptable,” and take over?  To what extent is “this extent”?

    How many people have to be affected to draw the line?  100?  1000?  And do those people have to be affected all in one event, or can they add up over the course of 50 years?  Do natural disasters trump man-made slaughters?

    I’m not trying to make light of the situation, and I don’t even disagree with your point.  But history is riddled with horrific massacres, perpetrated by tyrants AND by democratic governments.  This disaster, while huge and horrific, is not really different.  And the murder isn’t even intentional, it’s a secondary effect of inaction.

    Starting a war over it won’t make things better for the victims, and may well prolong the suffering.

  25. 25
    AgTigress says:

    I think we can all understand even on a purely personal level that people, and countries, want to be seen to be able to cope on their own and to handle their own crises, and may also fear that accepting assistance may make them beholden to others.  There can be a real fear that aid may come with strings attached. 

    This fear applies far more to isolated and arrogant totalitarian regimes than to those that are more open, but it is not unknown even in our own countries.  The real tragedy is that much of the aid in a situation like this is, in fact, offered without strings attached.  The ordinary citizens of other countries who see the devastation that has been wrought simply want to help, in the most altruistic way.  Refusal to accept that help violates some quite basic human instincts.

  26. 26
    AgTigress says:

    Killing your own people to maintain power happens in many countries, every day.  Most of it doesn’t make the news.  How do you pick one incident and one country and say, “This is not acceptable,” and take over?  To what extent is “this extent”?

    On that point, just one word:  Zimbabwe.

  27. 27
    Suze says:

    The ordinary citizens of other countries who see the devastation that has been wrought simply want to help, in the most altruistic way.  Refusal to accept that help violates some quite basic human instincts.

    YES!

  28. 28
    Kismet says:

    As sickening as this whole situation is, I agree with Suze and Agtigress. If the UN goes into Myanmar/Burma, Why not Sudan? The Darfur massacres (cough-genocide-cough) has been going on for years and yet the world sits on their hands. Why not Zimbabwe…. Why not Rwanda? Shoot, the whole world watched as the Chinese took down Tibetan Monks.

    And if they were to codify some sort of emergency/ natural disaster protocol, we would also have to follow it (Suze already mentioned the Katrina debacle).

  29. 29
    Agnes says:

    It would have been incredibly embarrassing for the US to accept foreign aid after Katrina…for Pete’s sake…we’re one of the richest nations in the world with the deepest pockets in terms of charity.  If we can’t help our own people, then who can?

    Emphasis mine: That’s probably what the Myanmar junta are telling themselves (plus of course the fear of letting a big number of people they don’t have full control on into their little playground, of course).

    For reference: Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed

  30. 30
    Shreela says:

    I watched a national news show a little while ago; they showed a journalist on a motorboat passing by so many floating bodies that he had to cover his mouth/nose with cloth.

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