Muddy Notebook

May 6, 2008

Update on the cyclone in Myanmar

Filed under: humanitarian,Myanmar — carolynthewriter @ 6:14 am
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Not surprisingly, the estimate of the dead and missing has gone up dramatically since the cyclone hit over the weekend. Here’s an update from Bloomberg news. Also, check out the comment/link left on my previous post by a blogger at Global Voices Online. Here’s Bloomberg.

 May 6 (Bloomberg) — The death toll from the tropical cyclone that slammed into Myanmar three days ago rose to 10,000, according to the military government, making the storm Southeast Asia’s deadliest natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami.

About 3,000 people are missing in the Irrawaddy delta region alone, Myanmar government ministers told international diplomats yesterday, the United Nations news agency IRIN said.

Power was knocked out in the former capital, Yangon, and drinking water was contaminated in the city of 5 million people. “At least eight townships are completely or mostly destroyed,” said Pamela Sitko, a worker with the U.S.-based Christian relief group World Vision, who has spoken with colleagues in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The U.S. yesterday offered an initial $250,000 in aid to the country, which is among the world’s least-developed, while castigating its military leadership for failing to alert citizens to the approaching cyclone.

“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,” First Lady Laura Bush said from the White House.

Death Toll

The death toll would be the worst since a 9.1 magnitude earthquake offshore from Aceh on Indonesia’s Sumatra in December 2004 caused a tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, devastating coastal communities and leaving more than 220,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries.

“The UN will do whatever it can to provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York. “Because of the lack of communications, we are not quite sure what will be the total extent of damages and casualties. I am very much alarmed by incoming views that casualties have risen to more than 10,000, according to Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry.”

Cyclone Nargis packed winds of 120 miles (190 kilometers) per hour when it struck the coast May 3, sending the sea surging as much 12 feet (3.5 meters).

State of Emergency

The government declared a state of emergency in five low- lying provinces, mostly in the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta, where villages were flattened by winds and rain, the UN said. Myanmar has a population of 47.8 million.

“The water supply is unfit to drink in the aftermath of the destruction, raising fears of water-borne diseases” in Yangon, IRIN reported.

A UN disaster-assessment team was dispatched to Bangkok, and the world body is prepared to provide a grant from the $500 million Central Emergency Response Fund, created to rush aid to nations in need, spokesman Farhan Haq said.

The UN Children’s Fund and its Development Program, which have offices in Myanmar, stockpiled food, water and medicine before the storm. They will distribute water-purification tablets, plastic sheeting, food and cooking sets in Yangon and the delta region.

Flooding, blocked roads and disrupted communications are hampering efforts to assess the extent of the damage, according to the world body.

International Assistance

The junta has requested international assistance and UN officials are engaged in talks with Myanmar authorities on how best to help, IRIN cited Richard Horsey of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as saying.

“Discussions are taking place in New York and on the ground about what is needed,” he said.

The price of food surged after the cyclone struck, according to the Irrawaddy newspaper, which is published by Myanmar dissidents in neighboring Thailand. An egg now costs between 200 and 250 kyat (20 cents) in Yangon versus 50-70 kyat before the storm, while one viss (1.6 kilograms) of pork is between 8,000 and 8,500 kyat, compared with 4,500 to 5,000.

Myanmar is regularly hit by cyclones that form in the Bay of Bengal between April and November. Nargis struck as Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, prepares to hold a referendum on May 10 for a new constitution before elections scheduled for 2010.

The junta vowed to press ahead with the referendum after the storm, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a state-run newspaper. The U.S. State Department said April 11 the referendum is an attempt by the military to retain power. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the vote is being held in a climate of repression and called the referendum “a sham.”

“They’ve orchestrated this vote to give false legitimacy to their continued rule,” Laura Bush said at a press conference in Washington.

President George W. Bush has instructed the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Burmese state-owned companies that are held in U.S. banks, she added. The move would expand sanctions imposed last year.

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May 5, 2008

The cyclone in Burma/Myanmar

Filed under: humanitarian,Myanmar — carolynthewriter @ 3:40 am
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Any cyclone is a tragedy. But here’s betting the impact of the cyclone that struck Myanmar over the weekend will be worsened thanks to the isolation imposed by the repressive military regime that has ruled the Southeast Asian country once known as Burma for 46 years. Myanmar generally only makes the news when the regime further jails opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, or beats up and arrests pro-democracy Buddhist monks.

This time it’s a natural disaster – Cyclone Nagris, which tore through Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta with winds hitting 120 miles per hour. At least 350 people were killed, with that number likely to grow. Watch to see whether the military junta’s policies of allowing few international aid groups in and restricting the access of those who are there, cripples the humanitarian mission that the cylcone requires. According to Reuters, Therje Skavdal, a regional official of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it will “take a few days before we get an overview of the damage.”  Let’s see if junta officials will give international relief workers the access they will need to reach victims. Let’s see if U.N. agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which wisely stocked up on food and other supplies ahead of the storm, will be allowed to hire the personnel and other organizations they may need to distribute the aid, whether there are enough vehicles available for transport and whether roads, phone systems and other infrastructure slow down any operation. The junta’s secretiveness and wariness of outsiders may take an even bigger toll on the Burmese people.   

April 22, 2008

My absence

Filed under: About the author,Africa,humanitarian,Myanmar — carolynthewriter @ 7:53 am
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My mother, Ann. M. Davis, died April 15, 2008, in Cleveland, OhioPlease excuse me for not having posted an entry in so long. My mother, who has been ill since I was in Uganda last June (I cut that trip short to race to the hospital in Cleveland where she was in intensive care) passed away last week. It all seems so unreal to me, that this person who I’ve known and turned to all my life is not around. My brain is flitting all over the place, including thinking about the deaths of mothers in places, including Uganda. It is so easy for Americans to pay little or no attention to mass deaths that occur in faraway locales from war, disease or malnutrition. “We”  tend to dehumanize “them.” At the best, we turn those who suffer in countries such as Myanmar or the Democratic Republic of Congo into an abstract lump of victims — it’s much neater that way.

But I am thinking now about how much children in those settings must hurt from the deaths of their mother – the same as any child around the world. They often lose parents at far younger ages than we do here in the United States. Even as I acutely feel my own grief, I cannot imagine the sorrow of  children who lose their mother – wherever they happen to live.

March 10, 2008

This and that

Filed under: Central African Republic,Myanmar,Zimbabwe — carolynthewriter @ 7:17 am

Here are a few tidbits I’m picking up from wire stories. 

Carolyn’s note: Robert Mugabe’s policies continue to hurt Zimbabwe – and all Zimbabweans. Who isn’t hurt by just this one effect of his actions, as reported by the Associated Press:

  “Since the government began ordering the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, production of food and agricultural exports has slumped drastically. Zimbabwe has the world’s highest official rate of inflation: 100,500 percent. ”

Carolyn’s note: From the Associated Press, this reminder that Mynamar is still a problem, even if it has fallen off the radar of most U.S. media:

YANGON, Myanmar: The U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar resumed meetings with the military government Sunday despite the junta’s rejection of his efforts to speed up the country’s return to democracy.
But the meetings appeared not to be directly concerned with the political reconciliation efforts being promoted by the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari.According to the U.N. Information Center in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Gambari met with the ministers of health and national planning as well as the chairman of the civil service board and a deputy foreign minister.Gambari apparently failed, however, to secure more talks with Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, who heads a team set up to discuss democratization.Last week the junta rejected U.N. suggestions for reconciliation, such as letting independent observers monitor the upcoming national referendum on a new constitution.Gambari also sought to have the process for adopting a new constitution made more open to incorporate the views of the country’s pro-democracy movement, led by detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The draft constitution’s text has not yet been made public. The guidelines on which it is based were drawn up by a military-guided convention and include clauses that would bar Suu Kyi from public office and perpetuate the army’s leading role in politics.

Kyaw Hsan said it would be “impossible” to rewrite the draft constitution, which will be submitted to a referendum in May.

Asked by Gambari to consider releasing political prisoners — estimated by the U.N. and human rights groups to total more than 1,100 — he said Myanmar has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the country’s stability.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the junta’s rejection of independent poll monitors, calling it “a sad day for democracy and our region.”

“Outside observers are not a threat to any nation’s sovereignty,” she said in a statement issued Sunday in Manila. “Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength. These observers help show the world the credibility of the election process itself as we had long done in the Philippines.”

The Philippines has been a major promoter of democratization among its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Nations, ASEAN. Myanmar is a member of the 10-country bloc.

The junta announced last month that it would hold the constitutional referendum, followed by a general election in 2010 — the first specific dates for steps in its previously announced “roadmap to democracy.”

The country been military-ruled since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by Suu Kyi’s party.

The junta’s rejections of Gambari’s suggestions were the latest setback for the envoy, who arrived Thursday on his third trip to Myanmar since the junta’s deadly crackdown on nonviolent pro-democracy protesters in September triggered an international outcry.

His visit came amid growing concerns that the government is tightening its grip on power.

Carolyn’s note: Let us also not forget the continuing violence in the Central African Republic and Chad as well as Sudan. 

BANGUI, March 9 (Reuters) – French troops stationed near Central African Republic’s border with Sudan transferred to a European Union protection force at the weekend, launching its deployment in the country, a force spokesman said.

The European Union is deploying a 3,700-strong EUFOR force to protect civilians and humanitarian operations in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic near the volatile border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

Around 200 French soldiers stationed in Birao, a remote town in northeastern CAR which was attacked and briefly occupied by rebels in late 2006, transferred to the force at a ceremony on Saturday, EUFOR’s Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Poulain said.

“They left French command and entered the command of EUFOR,” Poulain said on Sunday from the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where the force has its operational headquarters.

The French infantry unit, engineers unit and field hospital will be joined later by other European forces, although the bulk of EUFOR will be based in Chad, he said. The force will have an initial mandate of 12 months, which is expected to begin in the next few weeks when it becomes operational.

The deployment was delayed for several months by problems securing equipment, notably enough helicopters to cover an area 26 times the size of Kosovo with a fraction of the European Union force previously deployed to that conflict zone.

France, which is contributing more than half of EUFOR’s troops, formerly ruled both Chad and CAR as colonies and has stepped in to help both governments fight off rebel attacks.

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