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Burma - some good news

An email update from a worker in the country. I haven't given the name (see content for why), but thanks for the info, and good luck with the work. The title above was his subject line from the email - you can make up your own mind whether he's right.

Hi there,

Most of the news I have provided so far hasn't been particularly uplifting. Things are much better today. Some of the international NGOs like OxFam and Save the Children have organised to work with some of the local groups to collate data and provide funding. Only thing is, they have to write detailed proposals for this. This is really difficult for the local groups that formed following the disaster, but this was a really big step forward. International NGOs also have more direct contact with UNDP and UNHCR.

The folks I have been helping out are from a local music school. They are very well connected and so far it seems that they have managed to get a lot of funding, they are able to get US dollars into the country and have access to transport and resources. Some disaster management experts who hve been denied access to areas outside of YGN came along today and provided us with some information. I think most of the information was too complex, as was the languge, but we have managed to simplify and translate it so that it is digestible. Hopefully we will be able to implement recommendations. They will be in contact with the co-ordinated group of NGOs.

I guess so far most of what I have done is finding out information, putting people in touch with each other and trying to get them to co-ordinate nd organise things in the hope that a more effective and systematic approach can be developed. Communication here is really bad: mobile phones cost US$1,500 and are often tapped, and email access is slow, unreliable, and you have to be careful what you say. Then there is also the language barrier. I suppose the idea of being on the front line handing out rice to starving people and building shelter is somewhat romantic, but I think it would be counterproductive for me to do anything like that for the moment: security has been tightened and anyone taking foreigners is likely to be questioned, denied future access and get in big trouble.

Quite a few people have reported seeing the soldiers eating power bars that were donated (by the US?) and that the government is feeding its soldiers with confiscated goods. Not sure what else has been happening today though.

As for myself, I actually feel remarkably relaxed - I actually feel that life at home is more stressful. I get quite frustrated with the situation here, and I guess that is reflected in my emails (especially because the Internet is so slow and the power keeps dropping out). I don't think I have a great deal to be scared of besides deportation, and I have had no problems with access to food or water, so I'm quite safe. However I have a lot of respect for the many Burmese people who risk their lives, as well as those of their families and friends, in their relentless struggle for freedom and basic human rights. I think that they are truly courageous and I don't think that their plight is one that the world can continue turn its back on.


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Point the finger at politics.

"Schools should never collapse, and hospitals and fire stations should never collapse. These are all civic structures that are needed in a disaster," said Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "So when I hear a school has collapsed, I point the finger at politics."

This week, so have many Chinese.

This month has seen two terrible disasters in Asia, the death tolls continue to mount in China and Burma. How many thousands of people will have died unnecessarily because of bad political decisions? How will the regimes in China and Burma withstand the political backlash once the emergencies are over? Nature has always taken its toll but in this modern area people are demanding more of their politicians, we must make sure buildings are built to cyclone and earthquake codes before these disasters strike. We also must be ready to act when disaster does strike. China and Burmese politicians will have a lot to answer for. How would we cope if a disaster of this magnitude struck Australia?

Crisis capacity

Do you take note of the situation in Sydney when there is a decent smash on the motorways? Everything stops!

Notice how long it takes the (very competent) emergency bods to get things running again after not all that serious a storm?

On a day to day basis our hospital emergency facilities are stretched. Imagine if you can, that the east coast gets hit, say from Coffs Harbour (midway between Sydney and Brisbane) to Sydney. I'd like to think that the response would be on a par with that of China in its present crisis, but I am afraid that it would be more along the lines of the New Orleans disaster.

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