Burma & China: Dealing With Disaster

In December 2004 the tsunami disaster in the Far East showed that the community of nations had the capacity to work closely together to help regions hit by a natural disaster and rebuild its infrastructure. Global conflicts and disagreements were put to one side.

By not speaking strongly against the supermarkets the report was consigned to the back burner of importance. Recently I had the opportunity in parliament to raise the recommendations of the Commission’s report and raise some of the genuine concerns that I am sure many people have about the fast-changing patterns of high street shopping in recent years. Click here to read the full debate.

Sri Lanka and Indonesia have today made tremendous strides in repairing their devastated regions. Money raised by individuals, charities and governments worldwide were almost without precedent after the tsunami catastrophe.

The comparison with the Burma cyclone is quite stomach churning. After the south-east Asian tsunami many countries, not previously noted for their financial and other help in such emergencies, found they could play a role in the relief effort. Now those same countries are being frustrated in the fact that their efforts are being declined by Burma’s leaders.

With the earthquake in China coming hard on the heels of the disaster in Burma the world has once again been given the opportunity to offer rescue aid and has not been found wanting.

These three natural disasters have drawn attention to the importance of political openness in receiving help. They have put under the spotlight the value of people living under the banner of freedom in a free world.

China is a fully fledged economic powerhouse now but its infrastructure catastrophe and population loss is almost beyond our imagination. The images of destroyed towns where almost all the residents were buried will continue to fill our screens for many days to come and we shall all be grateful that our country never suffers such earthquakes.

I have visited China twice in recent years and the building development in Beijing, Shanghai and another region that I visited – Ningxia with its capital city Yinchuan -was staggering to behold. The information that China is now creating and using almost 50% of the world’s cement production is a mind-blowing statistic but one that can be believed standing at the top of a corporate office tower in one of their cities and looking at the cranes that fill the sky line.

With the Olympic Games so close to being held in Beijing it is heartening to see the Chinese Government throw all their resources to the Sichuan area where the earthquake took place. And it has also been reassuring to see the television pictures of the disaster being shown to its own people and the world. This level of openness augurs well for the future for the country.

The misleading comparison with Burma where the generals are seen wandering around in propaganda films amongst supposedly happy people from the disaster region will not be forgiven or forgotten by the international community. Huge sums of money and relief aid have been pledged from countries around the world to help the dispossessed in Burma but most of it still awaits permission to enter the country. I believe Burma will become a deserved pariah to most nations but international condemnation will not help its citizens.

Not too many years ago a disaster in China would have been able to receive little help from the outside world because of the political situation. We must all now work to encourage the Burmese leadership to relax their grip and let the global community help recover the country from its natural disaster. In that way democratic progress will become possible.

Whatever the UN has done or not done in the face of these national catastrophes, the important consideration to be taken from the terrible loss of life is the way that so many people from around the world without worrying about the religion, the race, the colour or the form of government of those affected has risen up again to offer help.

May that global spirit of humanity once again be the monument to these terrible disasters.