Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cyclone victims cry for aid insurgency

First, let's review the facts concerning Burma today:

Problem: Over one million victims: all at risk of disease, most famished without access to clean water, many of them orphaned children.

Opportunity: The outside world has -- in place at this moment -- a massive capacity to respond. Ships, boats, and helicopters from US, France, Britain and other big nations are on standby in the vicinity; plenty of money is already available; hundreds of experts from dozens of nations are also on standby.

Impediment: the leadership says it will not allow aid and expertise to reach the victims.

So what's the solution?

People discussing the answer seem to be bogged down in a debate about whether or not we should "invade" Burma (see here, here, here, or here). The notion of an invasion obviously conjures up images of the Iraq War fiasco. And we hesitate, as we perhaps we should, in contemplating America's recent track record.

However, this whole discussion sidesteps an important point; it diverts us from focusing on the immediate needs of hundreds of thousands of people who cling to life. Whereas invasion is usually an attempt to secure control of territory, what cyclone victims need is access to fresh water, food, medicine, evacuation (of sick and injured persons), mosquito nets, and tents. Getting this kind of aid relief to the victims does not necessarily require that we bring territory under our control for any appreciable length of time.

Solution: With regards to Burma, there happens to be a tried and proven formula that would allow us to help many cyclone victims: It's make deliveries, treat the sick, and get out. Repeat.

This might be accomplished through targeted relief efforts, with relief aid hitting one town or village after another. The Myanmar military, if it chose to try to obstruct such efforts, would not be able to mount much of a resistance.

Because the Burmese military would not know where the relief would be delivered next. How exactly, does a government defend against this kind of operation? This question is not being asked. In other words, how could the regime stop covert aid from reaching victims? The problem of mounting large-scale relief insurgency pales against the overwhelming problem that would be faced by the junta: that is, how to stop it.

One means of getting aid to cyclone victims in Burma is not invasion, but rather aid insurgency. With regards to Burma, this is not a new idea, but a tried, tested, and proven one. The Free Burma Rangers have been conducting covert relief operations in Burma for many years. Rangers' teams bring medicine and supplies to war-ravaged villagers in Karen State. If the Free Burma Rangers have successfully mounted hundreds of such operations in Eastern Burma, why can't others do the same -- albeit on a far larger scale -- for the desperate inhabitants of Burma's flooded Irrawaddy Delta?

For the junta to say that international aid and expertise will not allowed into Burma is criminal. But, at a time like this, for the world to continue to listen to the junta would be inexcusable.
Please read the related post, Burma crisis enters its second week

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