The growing disaster in Myanmar caused by Cyclone Nargis could have been at least partly avoided had people living in the path of the storm been warned, the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said Thursday.The storm warning systems and cyclone watch centers in place were all up and running, but the cyclone’s path to Myanmar across the Bay of Bengal on the Indian Ocean rim has been left out of the storm warning system, said Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN in a speech in Jakarta on Thursday.
Now, an estimated 100,000 people lay dead in the country and over a million people are homeless.
It’s the second time people have failed to avert disaster in Asia despite having the right technology in the right place, he said. The first time was the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. People in Hawaii knew a tsunami was coming ashore, but they did not know who to call, he said.
“In spite of the technology that we have, in spite of the power that we have, in spite of the network that we have, we still lose lives needlessly,” he said.
“So it is more than just the power of technology, it is more than just the transformation of society through technology, it is certainly a shift in paradigm here in the minds of our people and particularly our leaders.
“Because if you don’t have that shift, millions and billions of dollars worth of technology cannot deliver effective, timely relief to people when they need it most, because we have reservations about opening up our borders for cooperation, because we have hesitation about cooperating with the outside world, because we have mistrust of the outside world.”
ASEAN and other groups and countries have been working with Myanmar to allow aid to flow into the country, but the military leadership of the nation has been slow to respond.
ASEAN is a regional economic, cultural and social membership organization that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta region overnight last Friday. The initial devastation has been exacerbated by poor communication between government officials in the country and abroad, but emergency flights of food and medicine are getting through.
The fear now is that a lack of potable drinking water, and diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, could cause further problems in the country, according to the World Health Organization.
Countries around Asia have sent supplies or money to aid Myanmar. Indonesia, for example, sent three planes full of food, medicines and medical personnel to Myanmar on Thursday, in addition to pledging US$1 million in additional aid.
Microsoft has a team waiting for permission to enter Myanmar to help people find each other after the storm using refugee software developed in Kosovo and used throughout Asia after the 2004 tsunami.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already pledged $3 million to aid efforts in the country, Bill Gates said in a speech in Jakarta on Friday.