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2004 Tsunami Crisis: Impact on Myanmar/Burma

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a Southeast Asian that was also affected by the tsunami.  The nation, which is usually secretive in nature, has been largely forgotten in news reports.  Just to clarify the whole name of the country, Burma had its named changed to Myanmar in 1989.  Myanmar is recognized by the United Nations, but the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and much of the Burmese population, do not recognize this name change, since they do not recognize the military government that instituted it. 

The tsunami devastated the long southern coastline of the country.  The worst affected area was the Irrawaddy Delta, which is largely inhabited by poor subsistence farmers and fishing families.  To date the country’s government has put the death toll at 64 people, but the World Food Programme (WFP) says this may is probably a gross underestimation.  One WFP employee found 200 households where at least one person, who had been out fishing when the tsunami struck, was missing.

The Burmese government has given no extensive information on the economic impact of the tsunami, and has declined international offers for assistance.  Burma remains one of the poorest Asian country and living standards for the majority have not improved over the past decade.  The unstable political climate, widespread corruption, minimal foreign investment, and large trade deficit all contribute to forecasts predicting no significant growth.  The heavily trafficked black market has added to the country’s economic instability.  Burma has a mixed economy with private activity dominant in agriculture, light industry, and transport, and with substantial state-controlled activity, mainly in energy, heavy industry, and the rice trade.

Here are some of the tsunami-related stories coming out of the Mynamar/Burma:

- Burma rarely gives figures of dead from natural disasters, but aid agencies did say the country nevertheless appears to have escaped the tsunami's worst.  Independent aid organizations, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres, suggested that coastal communities were largely spared from the devastation seen in other countries bordering the Indian Ocean.  Conversely, the WFP believe that although the damage was less compared to other tsunami-affected nations, the damage was more extensive than the government would let up.  The WFP also said around 30,000 Burmese were still in need of clean water, food, medicine and shelter in affected villages.  Independent observers are unlikely to gain access to remote coastal areas since they are home to sensitive military installations, including a Chinese naval listening post near the Andaman Islands.  This means that an accurate picture of the impact of the tsunami on Burma may never be known.  

- Activist and welfare groups in the United States launched an appeal for funds to help tsunami-hit Myanmar migrants and refugees in Thailand since many Burmese migrants in Thailand are ineligible for much of the official aid due to their tenuous legal standing.  An estimated 127,714 people from Myanmar lived in Thailand's five tsunami-affected provinces, according to the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, many of whom fled their homeland because of Yangon's military dictatorship.  Of this, only 22,504 (less than 18 percent) were registered with Thai authorities.  According to a local human rights group, as many as 1,000 people from Myanmar in southern Thailand were killed and a similar number are still missing.