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Activists Call for US Government to Provide Emergency Assistance to Cyclone Victims in Burma (click to view PDF)

U.S. Campaign for Burma Press Release
May 5, 2008
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum (202) 246-7924

(Washington, DC) The United States Campaign for Burma today called for the U.S. government to respond to a major humanitarian crisis in Burma made by tropical cyclone Nargis, by providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma. The military regime has placed disastrous restrictions on humanitarian organizations operating inside Burma, forcing some to stop their operations. During this humanitarian crisis the regime must allow relief organizations to reach the most vulnerable populations. Delivery of assistance must be immediate and unfettered by the authorities.

The Burmese military regime did almost nothing to warn the people of Burma. Instead, the regime’s newspapers have been chock-full of propaganda about why the people of Burma should vote “yes” on a referendum that is an attempt to entrench military rule for many years to come.

The junta’s security forces and militias, who have been quick to attack and arrest democracy activists, are playing no role in helping the victims of the cyclone. According to Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine based in Thailand, “People are very angry with the slow response coming from the military government.”

In contrast, everyday villagers and citizens are beginning to clear the debris by hand. Buddhist monks, who led nationwide, peaceful protests aimed at ending military rule in Burma last autumn, are now on the streets, cleaning debris together with the people and helping the victims.

Cyclone Nargis devastated major parts of Burma, including major damages in the country’s largest city of Rangoon and throughout the Irrawaddy Delta region, Bago (Pegu) Division, Karen State and Mon State. Wind speeds of 120 mile per hour (190 Km/hr) and rain lashed the region from the night of May 2nd to the morning of May 3rd. During over seven hours of turmoil, up to half of the houses in Rangoon were destroyed and many others lost their roofs. Satellite Townships (similar to suburbs) in Rangoon, such as Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, Dagon Myothit North, and Dagon Myothit South were hit hardest. In Irrawaddy Division, two Townships — Kyaik Lat and Latputda — were almost completely destroyed. On Heingyi Island, there are nearly 100,000 people without homes or shelter. In Pyinsi Village in Pyar Pone Township, out of 3,000 villagers, at least two thousand are missing. The Burmese military junta claimed that over 4,000 people were dead, but the actual number of deaths is much higher.

It is estimated that it will take several weeks to restore electricity and telephone communication in Rangoon. The entire city is paralyzed and hundreds of thousands of people are panicking. It is widely expected that the Burmese military regime will make only symbolic efforts to help those affected. Residents of areas hardest hit by the storm have yet to receive assistance and their basic survival needs are in peril.

“We call on the US Government to provide emergency assistance to the Burmese people immediately through humanitarian agencies,” said Aung Din, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “Cyclone Nargis directly hit Burma; its tsunami-like effect requires the United States and the international community to respond immediately or many more people will die.”

“It is critical that any aid provided not be delivered through the notoriously corrupt government. The military and the organizations run by the wives of the Generals will only siphon off money and keep supplies for themselves. Money and humanitarian assistance should only be provided to trusted, international humanitarian organizations who can reach the victims of the cyclone directly,” added Aung Din.