Cyclone Nargis has claimed the lives of 22,500 with another 41,000 missing, Myanmar’s military government said yesterday. Disturbing reports have claimed that the devastation is so overwhelming that “bodies are being thrown into the river.”
The recent tragedy has put the spotlight on Myanmar’s military government. As international aid started to trickle in, the ruling military junta is being urged to open its doors. France said the ruling generals in the former Burma were still placing too many conditions on aid, Reuters reported. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has reportedly said: “The United Nations is asking the Burmese government to open its doors. The Burmese government replies: ‘Give us money, we’ll distribute it.’ We can’t accept that.”
The disaster has struck at a particularly ironic time, just a week before Saturday’s referendum on a new constitution. The junta hopes its proposed charter passes smoothly despite opposition from feisty democracy activists, but now it may face angry citizens in no mood to approve anything the government likes, even though the vote has been postponed in some areas hit by the storm, the Associated Press reported.
Asia Society’s Tion Kwa said: “This is a huge test for the military junta and indeed it could transform the political landscape. But if that does happen it won’t be for quite a while, several months at the very least. The immediate concern – for everyone- will be saving lives and rebuilding homes, getting their villages back in order and restarting the rural economy.”
According to Kwa, if the opposition and various dissident groups do try to capitalize on this it will be much further down the road, when they would presumably be able to highlight the regime’s inability to provide adequate relief and operate in an effective and transparent fashion.
Added Kwa: “And, of course, the government knows this and a lot will depend on how quickly aid gets to the people and who brings it. The military is obviously going to try to control the relief operation. I also expect them to claim as much credit for the effort as possible because they don’t anyone thinking the emergency aid is thanks to the same foreign governments and NGO’s it’s been demonizing. This is a regime that is incredibly suspicious of outsides and foreign relief efforts could dramatically undermine their credibility at home.”
Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta, which is located on Myanmar’s western coast, the hardest. The region is often referred to as the “rice bowl” of Myanmar because it was once ranked as one of the world’s top rice producers. Tourism is the second largest foreign exchange currency contributor to Myanmar’s GDP after the oil and gas industry.