Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Burma and China - Man made disasters

. The Guardian is carrying an interesting piece this evening which shows how angry Chinese are turning on their government after the devastation caused by the recent earthquake. It reported a women, hoping that she will be able to again see her daughter, asking;

"Why isn't there money to build a good school for our kids? Chinese officials are too corrupt and bad."

She went onto say;

"These buildings outside have been here for 20 years and didn't collapse - the school was only 10 years old. They took the money from investment, so they took the lives of hundreds of kids. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don't have money for our children. This is not a natural disaster - this is done by humans."

China has however at least wisely accepted the offer of foreign aid. It's close ally, the junta in Burma is still obstructing aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. It remains steadfastly opposed to granting visa's to foreign aid workers saying they are 'not necessary'. This patently absurd and lethal position means among other things that of the 361 tonnes of food aid sent just 175 tonnes has actually been distributed. How much the junta can be trusted to distribute the aid it receives is, of course, very questionable indeed and while countries negotiate with the regime the reality is that people are dying and there comes a point when talking exhausts it's usefulness.

It is illuminating of his own bankruptcy that George W Bush dismisses the Burmese junta as 'cold and callous' but still seems to offer little in the way of rushing towards a concrete solution. The contrast with his administrations gung-ho 'shoot first and ask questions later' approach to Iraq could not be more stark; here is a situation which requires firm, decisive and immediate action but none is forthcoming. No doubt the inhabitants of New Orleans will be familiar with this ineptitude and inability to swiftly act when confronted with a natural disaster.

The United Nations has called for the opening of an open sea or air corridor but there is little sign that the regime in Rangoon is willing to grant either. Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron have called for aid to be airlifted in with or without the permission of the regime but in reality without the workers on the ground that aid will be of little use and will probably cause a chaotic scramble which will in turn endanger more lives. It is in this situation that the UN should come into it's own and should indeed be invoking it's 'responsibility to protect'. Military force should be considered as an option if the regime does attempt to obstruct relief efforts but it should be carried out under the UN's banner.

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