U.S., Burma: two disasters, one response

Parrish Robinson

Taipei City — Living in Asia, I have been following the recent disaster in Myanmar very closely. The local news here in Taiwan has provided non-stop coverage, as well as CNN International. The response to Cyclone Nargis by the ruling government in Myanmar has made me reflect on Hurricane Katrina and my own government’s reaction.

At the time of Katrina, I was actually back in the U.S. for an extended period of time and was able to watch news coverage daily. I watched the forecasts prior to the event calling for an enormous storm to make direct contact with the Gulf Coast and I watched the impotent response in the aftermath.

It was such a helpless feeling for so many Americans as we watched our government do nothing while stories of hunger, death and destruction emerged. Even though there was sufficient time between the prediction of the storm and the storm actually making landfall, the response was appalling at best. After the feelings of helplessness, there was anger at claims of mismanagement, fraud and general chaos at the local, state and national levels.

Anger seems to be where the world is now with regard to the Myanmar disaster. The generals not allowing aid in when it seems that there is a lineup at the border of countries just begging to feed, clothe and medicate the affected has enraged even the usually restrained U.N. The Myanmar junta has completely denied every possible request from the outside world to provide assistance.

To the U.S. government’s credit, we are trying to send relief aid in now to Myanmar. But, how ironic is it that the U.S. administration is criticizing the junta for not allowing in aid in a timely manner? Maybe we actually learned something from the Katrina debacle.

Think about it: the leadership has let thousands of people languish in the disaster zone without food, shelter or medicinal supplies for days. Management and direction have been virtually absent and the people are on TV begging for help.

Am I talking about the Irrawaddy Delta in present day Myanmar or along the Gulf Coast of America in 2005?