Surely everyone has heard about the Cyclone Nargis which decimated the country of Myanmar (once known as Burma) last weekend. Most recent reports here have the number of fatalities nearing 100,000 with another million people homeless. This is the worst natural disaster to hit South-east Asia since the tsunami that destroyed the west side of Thailand in December 2004 (strangely, that’s where we are right now.) According to reports here, the military government of Myanmar knew of the cyclone’s approach, but did not warn anybody of the storm’s severity. Now, they are trying to refuse international aid, delaying visas and admission of people from organizations like the United Nations and Red Cross, and refusing aid outright from the United States. I just heard speculation on the news that that the international community is trying to find ways to deliver aid to the people of Myanmar without involving the government — airlifts for food and water, and even the possibility of a military push into Myanmar, effectively forcing aid into the country. It was noted on TV that the Myanmar military government has relationships with Russia, China, and North Korea, which gives their army of 350,000 strength it would not have otherwise. I just can’t believe how much potential there is here to do even more harm.Without any clean water to drink, without food or medicine, and without any place to stay, more people will surely die in the following days and weeks. Worse, the cyclone has destroyed the country’s main food-growing areas; the current crops of corn and rice are essentially gone. This will lead to more suffering in a country that has already suffered too much. I can’t understand how people can keep taking hits like this and keep on living. The human spirit has a strength that never fails to impress me.
Being here in Khao Lak, where the tsunami’s devastation was worst, has been interesting. The tsunami volunteer centre is just a short taxi ride away. They have an early-warning tsunami alarm that I hope I never have to hear. As I walk along the street, I can’t help but wonder how high the water came and what it was like for the residents of this tiny town, two hours north of Phuket. The storefronts are back, as are the restaurants, bars, the power lines, and the taxis. I wonder how many of these people lost loved ones on that terrible day; I wonder how many are survivors. I wonder where they found the strength in the days, weeks, and months following the tsunami to get up every morning, put one foot in front of the other and keep on living, and to one day smile and laugh again.Living in our cozy, warm cocoon in Toronto, it was easy to think about things like the tsunami and now, Cyclone Nargis, as a sad but also fuzzy and indistinct happening. It’s quite another thing to be right here where it all transpired, to imagine the horror of that day, and to know that there’s an entire country just north of here that’s full of people that are in the throes of terrible suffering.