We are observing one of the single most evil applications of political power in my lifetime, and the number of deaths likely to occur without assistance to the Burmese people could approach over a million by the end of the month, potentially more. As we observed last week, the monsoon season begins near the end of the month, although weather forecasts for next week may signal an early monsoon season. With those regions already flooded by the cyclone, the monsoon season will likely wash out the areas where there are survivors, and will create devastating effects to the millions who lost their homes to the cyclone.
It is also now clear that next years rice crop will not be laid down in time. This is a critical aspect of the discussion of the Myanmar tragedy that we have not observed analyzed in the media reporting or public statements, but it may explain the behavior of the junta in Myanmar. While the rice not being laid down will not create an immediate food shortage, it will create a massive food shortage next year, as 40% of the rice grown in Myanmar is grown in the devastated areas. While no one is saying it out loud, the strategy we observe unfolding appears to be to allow as many people as possible die, thus fewer people to feed next year when shortages will occur.
For perspective how large a tragedy is unfolding, Time Magazine has injected an article very much worth comment, and it does a good job putting the tragedy into perspective. The article is called: Is It Time to Invade Burma?
The disaster in Burma presents the world with perhaps its most serious humanitarian crisis since the 2004 Asian tsunami. By most reliable estimates, close to 100,000 people are dead. Delays in delivering relief to the victims, the inaccessibility of the stricken areas and the poor state of Burma's infrastructure and health systems mean that number is sure to rise. With as many as 1 million people still at risk, it is conceivable that the death toll will, within days, approach that of the entire number of civilians killed in the genocide in Darfur.We believe there are many more dead than is being reported, for several reasons. First, aid has only reached half a million people. The UN numbers the population of the heavy disaster region to be around 2 million people, with around 3 million people under flooded areas. In other words, as many as 2 million are in regions that have been wiped out by the Cyclone, but 3 million more are threatened due to living in a flooded region as the weather turns to more rain. It takes about 5 days by truck to drive to the southern affected regions from the capital, and there is no evidence of daily convoys. Another problem, on Saturday military forces involved in the humanitarian relief efforts were pulled off that duty so the government could run its sham election.
Other media reporting highlights the growing humanitarian problems in the country, and the problematic response.
Myanmar cleared two further UN aid flights to land on Saturday and allowed three UN trucks carrying enough tents and materials to shelter 10,000 people to cross from Mae Sot, Thailand.Two diplomatic envoys to the junta sent by the Thai Prime Minister were told the government was "too busy" to receive them. This has raised international concerns, as Thailand is considered a close friend of Myanmar. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been pleading for Myanmar to allow aid agencies to help, but all attempts by the UN Secretary-General to contact the Burmese leaders directly have been unsuccessful.
But the trucks will take at least two days to reach Yangon, formerly the capital, Rangoon. And that is still days by road away from the worst hit Irrawaddy Delta area.
India, which Myanmar considers a friend, also brought in a transport plane full of supplies, the fourth, plus two shiploads of aid that the generals have allowed it to deliver. Thailand sent one planeload of relief supplies.
The United Nations appealed for $187 million in aid, even though it is still not confident the food, water and tents flown in will make it to those most in need because of the junta's reluctance to admit international relief workers.
India and Thailand both have been satisfied with unloading their supplies at the airport and leaving them for the junta to distribute. The UN is balking at that kind of an arrangement and threatened Friday to suspend relief fights when a shipment of its energy biscuits was impounded by the military.
It quickly backed down, but it is still trying to negotiate an agreement that will ensure the world community's aid goes to those who need it most.
So far, there has been fewer than 12 total flights and only 2 ship loads of humanitarian supply to Myanmar, all of which was left to the government to distribute itself. The UN reporting is mixed, they claim 500,000 people have received some aid, but it is unclear if those people were in the flooded regions or the cyclone devastated regions. The UN is also claiming several villages have been out of food for several days, and only source of water are areas where dead bodies are scattered in. UNICEF health specialists estimate "20 per cent of children in the worst affected areas already have diarrhea and cases of malaria have also been reported."
We expect the UN to scream really loud and watch people die being unable to build a consensus to help the dieing people. By the end of the week, 100,000 will be everyones estimate, and given how long it takes to travel to many southern regions, particularly as the weather gets worse and increases flooding in the country, by the time we get "official" estimates 250,000 could be dead.
We don't expect the international community to take action without the approval of the junta. While military forces are moving into the region, the details tells the story. The Essex ESG is moving towards the coast of Myanmar, while the French are also sending FS Mistral loaded with humanitarian supplies. It is worth noting that the Essex ESG left a large number of Marines in Thailand, so they aren't ready for combat, while the Mistral is not carrying the usual military forces it would utilize in a combat theater. In other words, the platforms don't have the necessary payloads to conduct the type of offensive military operations Time Magazine is suggesting. To put the readiness levels of amphibious ships and Marines into perspective, there are 11 amphibious ships at sea today on deployment, and only 3, the Tarawa ESG returning home to San Diego after 6 months in the Middle East, actually have their regular load of Marines aboard. All that forward presence, and no real force options. Sure would be nice if we had a strategic sea basing capability to enable joint capabilities.