With each passing day, the news from Myanmar-that is, Burma-gets worse: As of Sunday, May 11, nearly 300,000 people were reported as dead or missing. The United Nations estimated “that between 1.2 million and 1.9 million were struggling to survive in the aftermath of the storm . . .”
As appalling as these numbers are, what is equally, if not more appalling, is the conduct of the Burmese junta: It is actively hindering relief efforts. Late last week, the UN’s World Food Program stopped sending food aid after the junta seized previous shipments.
However this particular controversy is eventually resolved, the world has already learned what some Christians already knew: The junta does not value the lives of its people.
On May 2, cyclone Nagris made landfall in the Irrawaddy Delta, Burma’s principal rice-growing region. Initially, casualty figures, as with most major disasters, trickled in slowly-so slowly that the world’s initial response was to speculate on global warming’s role in the disaster.
Then as the devastation became clear, the emphasis was on alleviating suffering. Yet a week after the cyclone, the junta was still refusing to let relief workers into the country, insisting that countries send only supplies and not personnel.
A World Food Program spokesman told the media that “all of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated . . .” This left the UN with “no choice” but to suspend attempts at food aid.
The junta eventually relented, but only after stamping their own names on the boxes, and not soon enough to prevent a catastrophe. Their intransigence may have already doomed a generation of Burmese children, according to international aid agencies. They warned of epidemics of “apocalyptic proportions.” The death toll from the epidemics and starvation could exceed the death toll from the storm itself.
As one brave Burmese shop-owner put it, “[the junta doesn’t] care about the plight of the people.”
No one knows this better than Burma’s Christians. As I have told you repeatedly, the plight of our Burmese brethren has been desperate. You have learned about a pattern of persecution that includes ethnic cleansing of Christian minority groups, the destruction of villages, forced conversions, and even rape and murder.
All of this is part of the junta’s attempt “to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism.”
For the most part, the mainstream media have ignored that story. In fact, most people in the West do not even know that Burma has a substantial Christian population. For them, human rights in Burma is about protesting Buddhist monks, not suffering Christians.
Of course, cyclone Nagris did not make such distinctions, and we ought not to, either. We ought to be at the forefront of alleviating the suffering of the Burmese people. But at the same time, we ought to point out to the world that while cyclones do not discriminate between Buddhists and Christians, this junta does.
And our nation ought to be mobilizing world opinion to bring down this oppressive regime.