≡ Menu

Day 984: The Victims Of Cyclone Nargis

Last week, D and I watched a Discovery Channel program which traced the Ganges all the way from its Himalayan headwaters to the Brahmaputra delta of southern Bangladesh.  While talking about the Sundarbans, the fertile estuarine environment where the river meets the sea, much like Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi delta, the narrator mentioned a 1970 cyclone which claimed 300,000 Bangladeshi lives.  D and I looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed the words, “That’s about the entire current population of New Orleans.”

Cyclone Nargis, which unfortunately shares its name with one of India’s most lovely old-school actresses, recently claimed about 22,000 lives with another 40,000 still missing.  They are, as D put it, “a large, poor, mostly brown population who couldn’t evacuate and got hammered.”  It is so easy to fathom and dismiss natural disasters and large populations dying as a result in underdeveloped nations because, along with political corruption and poor infrastructure, it happens there a lot more often than it does here.  When talking of Katrina and the Flood, we often opine that what we experienced is the sort of thing that happens in the third world.  We are Americans, how could this happen to us?

This is where people like my husband and Varg step in and say that we are so much luckier than those dead, missing and distraught in Myanmar right now.  From Myanmar: “It Ain’t Me, It Ain’t Me”:

Hurricane Katrina swept through a heavily populated delta region the same as Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta. Is there a Weather Channel there? Contraflow? Mandatory Evacuations? Comfort Inns? Fema? Army Corps of Engineers?

All the recessions, crooked politicians, dead fetuses, foreclosures, high gas prices and crime rates here in the West pale in comparison to Myanmar. Aid in New Orleans came late at the expense of lives but it did indeed come.

That last paragraph made me weep.  It makes me want to go to Burma over my next vacation and help some folks rebuild just like those who came here to get us back on our feet.  It’s a thought, a seed, not impossible.  Until then, I am going to give what money I can and urge you to do the same.  Southern Louisianans, I know times are hard and many are strapped for cash during our own rebuilding, but … you know.

Another way to help is by not turning into a people like the shackled citizens of Myanmar.  I’m not going to get all Rah Rah America Hell Yeah on you, but the unacceptable proposition of living and dying at the mercy of a dictatorship is why I always wanted to be an American and moved here.  It was the promise of freedom and infrastructure, not either or none.  We still have it in spades, but unless we fight for it everyday, it will slip away.  Let’s keep America whole, for ourselves and for those who may one day need solace from tyranny and its results.

In solidarity with the victims of Cyclone Nargis and the citizens of Myanmar.

* International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
* A whole host of links at Network For Good

8 comments… add one
  • Varg May 8, 2008, 8:22 PM

    Nationalism is fantastic. It helps us define ourselves, mingle with one another and work toward a better future. But it also seems to fly in the face of humanism.

    Amen Maitri.

  • Lekhni May 9, 2008, 7:50 AM

    “but the unacceptable proposition of living and dying at the mercy of a dictatorship is why I always wanted to be an American and moved here. ”

    This line left me confused. Which dictatorship were you fleeing? Are you from Myanmar?

  • Maitri May 9, 2008, 9:43 AM

    Varg, can we be enlightened nationalists then? True patriotic humanists?

    Lekhni, I was born and raised in Kuwait. While not as impoverished and politically stifling as today’s Myanmar, women have very limited rights and justice is capricious and often deadly.

  • alli May 9, 2008, 12:11 PM

    it reminds me of an exchange from ‘the west wing,’ where genocide is going on in the fictional african country of kundu, and pres. bartlett is weighing whether or not to invade. he asks the new speechwriter for his opinion, saying, “why is an american life worth more to me than a kundunese life?” and will bailey (speechwriter) says to him, “i don’t know, sir, but it is.”

    why are brown lives always worth less to americans? 3000 dead on sept. 11th, hell even the number of lives lost in iraq – all a pittance compared to the wounds we have inflicted, the lives lost in bangladesh, argentina, the congo, rwanda, chile, india during partition, AIDS all over, i could go on and on.

    we’re in a pot of boiling water and telling ourselves it feels great. the world will not keep forgiving us unless we force them to do so, again and again ad infinitum. such as it ever was.

  • alli May 9, 2008, 12:13 PM

    obviously i don’t feel that the american lives lost in the past few years were a pittance at all. only numerically, in comparison to other events of the 20th/21st centuries. just to clarify.

  • Maitri May 9, 2008, 12:17 PM

    Alli, what strikes me as ironic is that the United States is a leader in world aid delivery, but took its own sweet time when it came to Southern Louisiana in 2005. That aside, the west and east have a long way to go in recognizing each other as human, that we’re not so different.

  • alli May 9, 2008, 1:08 PM

    i would say they took their sweet old time for a couple reasons:

    louisiana is a brown state filled with french people and blacks. therefore, unamerican.

    and the total politicization of fema under bush. fema under clinton was a completely different agency.

    naomi klein (shock doctrine) would probably add a few reasons.

    but we really aren’t the gold standard in world aid delivery anymore, i don’t think. the tsunami relief was an international effort, and a lot of our component of that effort was aimed at providing developers with new coastal areas for hotel resorts.

    part of obama’s appeal to me is that he is getting americans to realize that other americans are human for the first time in what seems like forever. i guess we fix that first and then work on all being global citizens.

  • lissie May 11, 2008, 8:53 AM

    If therer was ever a reason for America to invade another country then this is I think – the death toll could be as high as 100,000

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: