Disaster relief in Myanmar and China | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 17, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 17, 2008


Disaster relief in Myanmar and China

Government response is the key

THE recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China should be enough to give any sentient human being pause. After we register our shock at the extent of the calamity and extend our sympathies to the families of those who have been killed or are suffering, there are two further considerations that must be kept in mind.
The first is to what extent these natural disasters may actually have a man-made component. Certainly when it comes to an earthquake there is not much that can be done to prevent it; nevertheless it is brittle housing that turns what might have been a minor disaster into a major one. The link between more frequent cyclonic activity and global warming, however, is growing stronger every day, and it seems that more frequent and severe weather disturbances of this sort are yet another price that the planet is paying for our disregard of environmental fundamentals.
The second is to look at the duty of governments when disaster strikes. Myanmar has shown us how the tragic can be made magnitudes worse when the government of the day is callous or inefficient, or both. It has been the disgraceful mishandling of the tragedy by the junta in Myanmar that has turned a tragedy into a cataclysm.
On the other hand, it seems that the Chinese government has done a reasonable job of minimizing the losses caused by the recent earthquake. The loss of life is shocking in its scale, but there is no doubt that it could have been much worse had the response not been as timely and efficient.
The lesson to be learned here is two-fold. The first is that these disasters will continue to happen and that we all need to plan for them. That means addressing global warming without delay, having disaster warning and relief mechanisms in place ahead of time, and, in the case of earthquakes, it means ensuring that all buildings are up to code and earthquake-safe.
The second is that the difference between a tragedy and a calamity lies in how we respond. It is incumbent on every government to make disaster planning and relief a top priority. If this is not the function of government, then nothing is. All governments must understand that it is their sworn duty to take full care of their citizens in their hour of need.

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