I knew it would happen, I don’t know why I feel so angry about it and want to cry… but I do. As soon as I read about the magnitude 6.8 earthquake in eastern Shan State, Burma last Thursday, I was anxious that there would be a repeat of the callousness of May 2008 after cyclone Nargis. (See YouTube video of earthquake damage here).
The ruling military junta of Burma has been systematically committing genocide against ethnic minorities in Burma for decades, outside media are tightly controlled or excluded altogether and so little is spent on infrastructure that natural disasters become another mechanism by which the military can eliminate those who are not Burman.
So what is happening in eastern Shan State for those affected by the quake? Official Myanmar media is singing the praises of the military and police relief efforts. Other, more truthful, sources are publishing reports of cover-ups, propaganda and incompetence:
On Saturday reporters from The Irrawaddy visited the Tachilek Hospital and saw it was overwhelmed by hundreds of earthquake victims, many of them forced to stay out in the open air. Hospital staff estimated at the time that about 700 patients were being treated.
Reporters from The Irrawaddy returned to the hospital on Sunday, but saw no patients outside of the hospital and only normal patients inside in numbers that totalled much fewer than than the day before.
When asked where the other patients went, hospital staff and patients said they were “sent away” by the local authorities.
In another report The Irrawaddy states that residents of Tachileik took their own limited supplies of bottled water and instant noodles to earthquake affected areas only to be prevented from assisting by local authorities and the supplies were seized, then military generals were photographed handing the confiscated donations to victims.
Despite the 73 to 75 deaths being officially stated by the Myanmar government, reliable aid agencies have reported at least 150 dead, and it seems that reports of 300 dead are likely to be true. Some aid has been accepted from international sources, but under close control of the military.
And while earthquakes are currently hot news, a bigger loss of life has already occurred in the Andaman sea where an estimated 7000 fishermen were lost in a storm two weeks ago (14–16 March). Of those, 3,374 have been rescued but the remaining fishermen are still missing, presumed drowned. Again, if this had occurred in another nation the world would be watching on their TVs and assistance sent. Admittedly the Burmese navy has been a significant part of the rescue effort, but open reporting of the tragedy is still being suppressed.
So my question remains, did God shake up the wrong people? Why are the poor and persecuted suffering from natural disasters while those who grind their faces in the dirt are still enjoying their expensive lifestyles?
The LORD has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
The LORD will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Isaiah 3:13–15 ESV)
Have you ever said, even in jest, “If I ruled the world things would be different!”? I certainly have, and no doubt my children can vouch that it is a very good thing that I do not rule the world. We know Job’s response when God did answer his persistent why? (Job 40:3-5). Even so, I find an anger like that of Jonah (Jonah 4:9–11) rising in me as I learn about the injustice and blatant evil being committed by the Burmese military dictatorship. God saved the Ninevites whom He had pity on, I’m impatiently waiting in my impotent anger for Him to save the ethnic people of Burma.
… if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
(Hebrews 12:25–26 ESV)
Image of injured man in front of ruined building: The Irrawaddy