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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
A tale of two disasters
Article Type: Editorial From: Disaster Prevention and Management, Volume 17, Issue 4
It is not often, fortunately, that two disasters occur within a short time of each other in countries within the same geographical region. The hurricane that struck Burma (Myanmar) and the earthquake that struck China leave in their wake similar problems to be resolved quickly and as efficiently as circumstances allow, but the responses that were implemented differed in each country.
The Burmese government was extremely reluctant to accept aid from countries that opposed their governmental style on the basis that they did not want people from these countries entering their country. They even refused help from foreign warships patrolling outside their territorial waters who offered to drop supplies by helicopter without landing on Burmese soil. Then they entered into negotiations with ambassadors from the United Nations which went on for days. They showed off a model refugee camp for refugees from the disaster but there were very few refugees there. The Burmese government showed the UN delegates scant respect and they did not accept the right of the UN to interfere in their business. The Burmese government were quite happy to let the survivors suffer whilst they played politics on the world stage.
The Chinese government, on the other hand, were quick to accept foreign aid workers and foreign aid. So what are the differences due to? China has had more disasters in the last 20 years than Burma and has come to accept that the way forward is to get as much help as quickly as possible, but prior to 20 odd years ago their response was quite similar to that of Burma today. Liberalisation and improvement in human rights issues within China, along with a greater dependence on world-wide trade and especially with the western countries has led to China being offered the opportunity to host this year’s Olympics which the Chinese government regards as a major coup and will go to any lengths to ensure that the image of China is not tarnished by a poor response to a major disaster.
The United Nations again remained divided over the issue of the plight of the Burmese people and dillied and dallied over the best way forward while the poor survivors in Burma suffered. Are these politicians bereft of all compassion? Have they no humanity? Are they totally void of empathy? Do they not understand suffering? Or do they just not care? This archaic institution has to be revised and quickly – part of their mandate is to help the poor of the world – and in this they abjectly fail as shown by their tardy response to the situation in Burma.
The United Nations should be the most powerful grouping in the world which all nations could respect, but over the past few years it has shown itself to be weak and devoid of respect from any nation, and as such it has to reform itself or exit stage left.
If there is anything more compelling for a new, internationally respected and accepted, apolitical organisation to deal with the aftermath of disasters, it is what occurred in Burma, but it must be apolitical.