Myanmar crisis requires more aid

June 4, 2008 — by Gautham Ganesan, Tim Tsai, Emily Chen, Aditi Jayaraman

In recent weeks, Southeast Asia has been rocked by two calamitous natural disasters. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province of China, on May 12, toppling buildings and schools throughout the province and even shaking buildings in Beijing 932 miles away. To date, experts estimate that the earthquake has killed 55,000 people. Meanwhile, just eight days before, a cyclone struck Myanmar, previously known as Burma. Reports have the death toll nearing 134,000.

Although both events have captured world headlines and left thousands homeless or otherwise devastated, the earthquake in China has dominated the news, leaving many people uninformed and ignorant regarding the situation in Burma. While this is largely due to the military junta’s stranglehold on foreign media entering Myanmar, this oppressive dominion over news flow should provide all the more reason for people to try and help in Myanmar.

Because China is only three months from hosting the Olympic Games and also because many world powers hold investments in the massive Chinese economy, the majority of the international aid is going to China.

This, however, is a far cry from the course of action that should be taken. China has vast economic and technological resources and is inherently better equipped to handle the disaster. The government, although Communist, would be able to produce the manpower and the money to help displaced individuals recuperate. On the other hand, the military dictatorship in Myanmar needs all the help it can get in bringing food, clean water, and shelter.

In light of the recent natural disaster however, Burmese exiles worry that the country’s dismal political record will not be forgotten. Because Myanmar’s history is saturated with numerous oppressive military regimes and countless human rights violations, the United States government has refused to provide aid to the nation. As one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, something that has lead to events as disheartening as last September’s peaceful protest lead by Burmese monks that was brutally squashed by the tyrannical government.

Though the junta has recently agreed to allow international aid past its borders after three weeks of blocking access, the UN estimates that only 25 percent of the storm’s 2.4 million victims have been reached. Despite this act, many countries are reluctant to send aid to Myanmar because they feel that by funneling money into a military dictatorship, they are only helping to prop up a corrupt and abusive government. America and other world powers should temporarily set aside the issue of Myanmar’s dictatorship, however oppressive, to assist the suffering individuals whose lives have been irreconcilably altered by the tragedy. Independent organizations without political affiliations are already sending valuable resources to help the rebuilding process, but they can never hope to match the relief that can be provided by the U.S. or any other nation.

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