A fortnight after Japan was convulsed by multiple disasters, Myanmar has been shaken by a powerful earthquake, 6.8 on the Richter scale.
However, this must not lead the international community to conclude that Myanmar does not need help. It does. Its capacity for rescue and relief is minimal as will be its ability to rebuild and reconstruct. Myanmar is among the poorest countries in the world. Its economy is in a shambles thanks to the flawed policies of its military rulers and the impact of ill-conceived economic sanctions imposed by the West. Besides, the country is yet to recover from the devastation unleashed by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. Around 1,38,000 people were killed in that disaster, the worst ever to hit Myanmar. It is believed that much of the aid that poured into Myanmar in the aftermath of Nargis did not reach the victims but went into the personal pockets of the generals. With this, Myanmar’s junta reaffirmed that they cared little for the people. A similar response from the government now could amplify the damage done by the quake.
Myanmar’s new government takes charge later this week. Although a supposedly ‘elected’ government, it is dominated by the military. How it responds to the quake disaster will be closely watched now. It has a chance to show that it is a responsive and responsible government. Several countries including India have promised humanitarian and other help. The government must ensure that these reach the intended beneficiaries. Inept handling of a natural disaster could prove catastrophic.