2008 - Burma

Reflection on Burma: a different coalition of the willing.

Many Australians have spared more than a thought for the people of Burma since the mass destruction of the Irrawaddy delta region in early May.

Difficult though it is to place the politics to one side for a moment, it is worth reflecting on the plight of so many families who eeked out a poverty-stricken existence on the delta riceland prior to the cyclone and associated tidal flooding.

That struggle must be recalled as relative paradise, compared to their world in June 2008.

Today very few people of the delta region are giving any thought to the restoration of a road or the reconstruction of a vital bridge. They would not even know how many aid workers, logisticians, engineers and technicians have put their hands up to go and help.

So many families are now incomplete, trying to accept life without those who were drowned.

Much has been made of rotting corpses. Why would anyone in Burma volunteer to dispose of a body when he has no food or water to simply survive through the day?

This is the Burmese wet season. The absence of shelter would be a huge issue in itself, even if bellies were full, clean water available, and fuel on hand for cooking.

Basic disinfectant, gauze bandaging, pain relief medication and simple hygiene aids are unavailable.

Those with fractures, gaping wounds and other serious injuries have the bleakest of prospects. It is not a matter of turning up in hope to a local medical clinic. Few of those buildings survived the disaster.

Immediately following the tragedy reference was made to the in-country presence of aid workers. It was quickly apparent that most of these workers were Burmese without even modest stocks of relief goods at their disposal for mobilization.

Even more fundamental was that they were in no position to head up a major relief effort. Most were in the category of victims, not skilled and motivated leaders of a localized response.

The great difference between this catastrophe and the Indian Ocean tsunami is the response from the rest of the world. In both cases there was no shortage of willingness to come forward with a massive emergency relief program. The difference this time is the virtual lock-out of a queue of people and organizations willing to help.

Humanitarian crises, particularly creeping food shortages escaping media attention in Africa, have sometimes prompted slow and inadequate responses from the international community. Tragically for the Burmese people, this disaster is one where so many were, and still are, ready, willing and able to bring forward the most enthusiastic and comprehensive response.

Whatever the rest of this year brings, 2008 will be recorded as another sad year for humanity, not due to lack of willingness, but for a disastrous lack of opportunity to respond.   

Footnote: RedR Australia is an organization ready to make a difference. Anyone seeking information on Red R’s selection and preparation of standby personnel after disasters such as Burma should contact (03) 9329 1357.

Alan McLean   CEO    RedR Australia

N.B.: RedR Australia works in partnership with the disaster relief organizations of the United Nations and other international bodies. RedR Australia seeks experienced and qualified personnel who undergo preparation for field assignments associated with humanitarian relief of suffering following natural disasters and conflicts.

A register of suitable people is maintained and names are submitted at short notice when the UN bodies make requests.

Assignments may range from a few weeks to six months.

www.redr.org.au provides more details on both RedR’s training and its register of personnel.