In Myanmar, disaster first struck on May 2, 2008. That was a natural disaster: a cyclone.
Today: an estimated 2.5 million people remain in severe need, threatened by disease, hunger and exposure because of the loss of their homes. The U.N. says only about 25 percent of survivors have received any kind of aid.
Off the cost, sometimes within sight, there is a naval flotilla sent there for one reason: to assist. They are not here to invade. They are armed with food, clean fresh water and medical supplies.
Ships from the U.S., France and Great Britain are being turned away by the military junta that is the government of Myanmar. If it is fear, or selfishness: nobody knows and nobody much cares.
The junta is killing its people and relief is within reach and eager to assist.
The USS Essex , and the Essex Amphibious Ready Group steam in formation, Friday, May 23, 2008 in the Andaman Sea. The Essex Amphibious Group is standing by in international waters off the coast of Burma in support of Joint Task Force Caring Response, a humanitarian assistance operation developed in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. The USS Essex, will remain there for some days or weeks, but will not linger there for months waiting for permission to bring in aid. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Chief Petty Office Ty Swartz)
The Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar's key rice-producing region, was decimated by Cyclone Nargis, but the xenophobic junta has kept it virtually off-limits to foreign aid workers.
Above: French Navy ship Le Mistral is off the coast of Myanmar. Highly capable and loaded with cyclone relief supplies, it is now hoped her helicopters can be put to work in the humanitarian relief effort. France says she was specially loaded with more than 1,500 tons of relief supplies. She cannot be unloaded except by civilian boats, the generals of Myanmar say. Who will hold them accountable?
I cannot recall a situation as stark and deadly as this in the last 40 years of disaster relief. Help is here and help is set aside.
Hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions are suffering because the military junta of Myanmar is selfish, fearful and small. And the United Nations was powerless to convince them otherwise.
This is shameful and unacceptable.
"The clock is ticking," a senior U.S. Navy officer told me. "We cannot sit here idle forever."
Official estimates put the death toll at about 78,000, with another 56,000 missing. Myanmar has estimated the economic damage at about $11 billion from the May 2-3 storm.
But the cyclone was an act of God. Today's refusal to use help that is on scene and ready and free is inexcusable. It is criminal.
There is a special place in hell for "leaders" that through ignorance or fear or selfishness neglect the people that they are responsible for....
Myanmar's junta leader Senior General Than Shwe (uniformed-C), along with top military brass, visits cyclone-affected familes on the outskirts of Yangon on May 18, 2008. The US questioned the relevance of a fundraising conference for cyclone-battered Myanmar, saying it was more important for military rulers in the Southeast Asian state to provide swift increased access to disaster-hit areas. This was General Than Shwe's first visit to his people. The cyclone struck on May 2.