To respond to considerable and thoughtful reader criticism and comments addressed to my Myanmar posts, I’d like to organize and expand my views on what’s happening in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.
What the Myanmar regime is doing:
Disaster relief on a brutal triage basis
Exerting iron control over the delta to make sure it is the only viable aid conduit (it is becoming more apparent that the Myanmar military does have a significant presence in the delta and its guiding priorities are not simply disaster relief: they are control of the population and control of the aid process—objectives we find reprehensible—that are part of an integrated strategy to successfully extract aid and diplomatic engagement from other countries. In other words, a carefully conceived and executed—and apparently successful– strategy to leverage the cyclone survivors as hostages.)
Accepting civilian aid that it distributes according to its priorities and objectives.
Not accepting military aid. (Foreign military flights are probably impossible even after the junta controls the situation in the delta and allows foreign aid workers on the scene).
What it is not doing:
Not accepting aid. This canard has caused a lot of heat and confusion that has obscured the true nature of what’s happening in the delta. It’s not incompetent, malign neglect—it’s the planned and energetic imposition of regime control over the disaster scene and the aid process—and the acceptance of no-strings-attached assistance from friendly or apolitical parties and dump-and-go aid.
What the Burmese people are doing:
The bulk of disaster relief, heroically, as local communities always do, even in horrific catastrophes of this magnitude
What in-country NGOs and their largely Burmese volunteer staffs are doing:
A tremendous job
What NGOs without a local presence are doing:
Looking for an aid mechanism that will assist them in playing a meaningful but secondary role
What the United States, France, and the UK are doing:
Worrying excessively about the junta gaining an undeserved political and economic bonanza from the disaster
What they are not doing:
Effective, large-scale disaster relief
What they should not be doing:
Trying to strip control of the aid process from the junta by advancing doomed-to-fail humanitarian intervention agendas
What ASEAN and the UN are doing:
Doing the right thing and organizing apolitical relief and a mechanism that will allow foreign aid to flow—that will unfortunately benefit the junta.
What the free-Burma organizations are doing:
Seething in justifiable frustration as the junta exploits the disaster to advance its economic and political agenda
What should be done:
Engage apolitically with the junta despite its corruption and brutality to restore the physical infrastructure of the delta and get the monsoon paddy planted.
What should be done after the basic physical security and livelihood of the people in the delta has been secured:
Link reconstruction and development aid to political reforms.