"The real issue is that of movement restriction in to the delta. You can get the visas but you can't get in to the delta."
- Richard Horsey, a spokesman for UNOCHA
This is not the time to respect Burma's border controls. National restrictions that are causing further deaths, do not deserve any one's respect.
- Mae Tao Clinic Website
The Irrawaddy Delta. Lots of it is now under water. Thousands of villages have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of victims have yet to be reached. Many villages are only accessible by boat.
Meanwhile, aid relief organizations are complaining that they can't reach the parts of the delta impacted by the cyclone because they do not have authorization. A Thai newspaper reported:
(Horsey) noted many visas were of short duration and most experts were limited to staying in Rangoon, the former capital.Of the few international relief workers who have been allowed into Burma, many don't have the paperwork to get into the Irrawaddy Delta region.
Three observations. First, you don't need paperwork to reach to these places. You need a boat or a helicopter. Second, these and copious supplies are available not in Rangoon, but on board foreign naval vessels presently situated offshore the Irrawaddy Delta. Third, if aid workers are not where they are most needed, my bet is that Myanmar government authorities are not hovering around the flooded and destitute villages either. That is, I can't imagine there is as yet any appreciable Myanmar military presence in many of the more devastated areas.
Which brings me to my question: why aren't all those the US, French, and British assets -- helicopters, supply ships, landing craft -- that have been floating offshore Burma for the past week, in there, actively saving lives now? Truly, what are they waiting for?
We need Myanmar's permission, Western leaders claim -- or else some kind of UN authorization -- goes the argument. And then what? Then we are right back to square one with two choices: either defy the regime or go back to playing the junta's waiting games. Either way, precious time passes for desperate victims of the cyclone.
Given the fact that relief teams are unlikely to face any opposition if they simply made their way into the more isolated regions of the Irrawaddy Delta to seek and assist survivors, I find this whole line of argument academic.
If Western naval assets offshore Burma have not already been ordered into action to save Burmese lives -- a possibility I would not entirely discount -- they ought to be.
Photo 1: Wikipedia, images show Irrawaddy Delta before and after.
Photo 2: Wikipedia, shows the HMS Westminster which "was deployed offshore Burma in May 2008 to spearhead the British relief effort after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country."