May 7, 2008
NOT AN ILL WIND?:
Myanmar courts political disaster (Brian McCartan, 5/07/08, Asia Times)
Initial FAO figures indicate the areas hit by the cyclone comprise 50% of all irrigated farmland, which produce about 65% of Myanmar's rice. The storm also is expected to have wiped out much of the area's livestock and damaged fish and shrimp farms.
The government will need to import massive amounts of rice at a time of skyrocketing global prices to feed the cyclone victims as well as millions of other Burmese who depended on the rice grown in the delta for their sustenance. This is an expensive proposition for one of the world's poorest nations, but one which the generals will need to undertake if they hope to keep protesting and hungry people off the streets.
Prior to the cyclone disaster, tensions were already running high in Myanmar due to massive political pressures imposed on the population to vote in favor of a new constitution during a May 10 referendum. The government announced the date for the referendum only in February and on Tuesday postponed the vote until May 24 for 47 of the worst cyclone-hit townships.
This means almost half the population will not cast ballots in the initial voting and that the junta expects about 24 million people to have recovered enough with scant government assistance to participate in the referendum. The United Nations Security Council released a presidential statement on Friday urging the military regime to make the referendum vote "credible and inclusive". Making the referendum credible or inclusive will be almost impossible after the cyclone if the junta pushes ahead with a vote this month.
Instead, the generals may find their supposedly democratic exercise is met with a popular backlash. Before the cyclone disaster, the population was already feeling the pinch from runaway inflation for basic foods and commodities. Rising costs, particularly for fuel, sparked last year's mass demonstrations, which later morphed into anti-government protests.
Natural disasters may trail only America in destabilizing regimes.
'Nature Has Dealt the Burmese Junta a Devastating Blow': The cyclone that hit Burma over the weekend has killed tens of thousands and made more than a million homeless. The Burmese government has asked for international help -- and the consequences could be remarkable. (Der Spiegel, 5/07/08)