Myanmar, Cyclone Nargis and regional intermediaries
The people of Myanmar are highly vulnerable to natural disasters due to the impoverished nature of the country and an associated prevalence of thatched housing, poor medical and emergency services, and a substandard transportation network. Moreover, Myanmar itself is a high-risk country in terms of the frequency of natural disasters. Thus, between 2008 and 2011, the country was struck by at least eight natural disturbances including earthquakes, cyclones and floods; however, the most devastating of these was Cyclone Nargis on 2 May 2008. Consequently, this chapter assesses the domestic, regional and international factors that affected the nature and effectiveness of the Myanmar Government’s responses to Cyclone Nargis. Given the hesitancy and inadequacy with which the then military junta responded to Cyclone Nargis, the first section examines how the country’s history, security challenges, political structures and associated world view may have influenced the actions of the junta. Based on this analysis, the second section examines the actions of the military junta, the region and the international community in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. In particular, the section analyses how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had some success in overcoming the ‘security concerns’ of the military junta by: (a) acting as an intermediary between Myanmar and the international community; and (b) depoliticizing the delivery of aid and subsequent reconstruction efforts. Given the establishment of a new constitution and a new parliament since Cyclone Nargis, the third section examines the extent to which meaningful political liberalization is taking place and whether such developments will have tangible implications for the future of disaster management inside Myanmar. The chapter argues that there is a bona fide element to recent political reforms in the country and that these changes will, over time, positively influence how Myanmar’s new government will respond to natural disasters; however, the chapter also argues that ASEAN’s present disaster management mechanisms should be maintained, as they will play a critical role in facilitating effective disaster management in the interim.