Humanitarian crises require U.S. leadership


From Myanmar, to China, to South Africa, innocent people are suffering because of natural or man made disasters, but the world community has reacted with little sense of urgency.

In Myanmar, the South East Asian country formerly known as Burma, a month has passed since a deadly cyclone, now named Nargis, struck, killing 78,000 and leaving another 56,000 missing. More than 2 million survivors are in harm’s way because of a lack of shelter, medicine, clean water or adequate food. The military junta continues to play games, while the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban ki-Moon, tries to win over the leaders with compliments and conciliatory statements.

What is needed, instead, is a stern warning to the Myanmar government from the world community that a month of refusing to permit all the foreign aid workers into their country to help those in need meets the definition of crimes against humanity.

Course of action

While there finally is global outrage about the low-key response, a clear course of action has yet to be defined if the military leaders continue to lie about how well the government initially reacted to the cyclone’s crushing blow and how quickly recovery is taking place.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying the government had acted with “criminal neglect” in responding to the crisis, painted a bleak picture of what lies ahead for the victims of the cyclone.

Speaking Sunday in Thailand, Gates said Myanmar’s reluctance to allow a free flow of foreign assistance and aid workers meant that many more people would die. He was referring particularly to the refusal of the junta to allow U.S., British and French military ships off Myanmar’s coast to bring in aid.

Gates told reporters that he will make a decision within “a matter of days” about withdrawing U.S. Navy ships off Myanmar, because “it’s becoming pretty clear the regime is not going to let us help.”

As a result, he said many more people will die, particularly those in areas that can only be reached by helicopters, such as the ones sitting idle on the U.S. ships.

Innocent people without the ability to demand basic assistance must not become sacrificial lambs in this heart-wrenching drama.

The United Nations should be willing to use its authority to intervene if the military leaders keep putting up roadblocks.

China

In China, a killer earthquake May 12 in Sichuan Province that claimed about 50,000 lives, including thousands of children, has turned the spotlight on what has grown into a major controversy. It could prompt the government to react with force. Parents of the children who died are demanding a formal investigation to determine why so many schools, packed with youngsters, crumbled, while government office buildings withstood the quake.

Did government officials responsible for enforcing building codes and standards permit builders to cut corners and use low quality materials in constructing the schools?

It’s a question the government in Beijing does not have the credibility to answer in an honest, forthright manner.

President Bush, who has tended to treat Chinese leaders with kid gloves, should make it clear that a probe by an international group of building experts would be advisable. He should remind the Chinese that they can ill afford civil unrest in the months leading up to the summer Olympics.

South Africa

In South Africa, refugees from neighboring Zimbabwe, which is in the grips of a major political crisis, have become the targets of South African gangs that blame them for the lack of jobs.

The Zimbabweans must be protected by the South African government, which needs to hear from the Bush administration.

Zimbabweans left their home country because their lives were in danger. The government of President Robert Mugabe has launched a bloody campaign against enemies, real or imagined.

The U.S. should use its influence to ensure that the refugees in South Africa are protected.

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