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The tsunami and Burma

It’s becoming clear that we won’t know the full scale of the disaster caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean for weeks to come. Death tolls from countries affected has now exceeded 76,000 and is expected to increase beyond 100,000. The numbers could go much higher if governments aren’t able to control waterborne diseases like cholera that are likely to break out in areas devestated by the disasters.

And then there are countries like Burma, where we may never know the consequences of the tsunami. The military government of Burma – or Myanmar, as they prefer – has said very little about the impact of the earthquake and tsunamis on their nation. I wrote a piece for WorldChanging yesterday, which included the following:

There’s two possible explanations for this story. One is that Myanmar, with 1930 kilometers of coastline, numerous fishing villages and huts on stilts along the coast, and a common border with Thailand – where over 1500 are reported dead – miraculously escaped the effect of the tsunami.

The other explanation is that Myanmar’s famously secretive military government hasn’t wanted to reveal the extent of the tsunami damage to the outside world… and especially to their own citizens. (As in many represive regimes, it’s easier to to get news from outside the country than news from within it.)

In trying to follow this story, I’m reminded of some of the challenges Rebecca faced in trying to cover the Ryongchon explosion in North Korea for NKZone. Was it an explosion? A natural disaster? An assasination attempt? Due to the closed nature of North Korean society, we may never know. As for the extent of the tragedy in Burma, we may learn more over the next few days or weeks as citizens within the country communicate with family and friends across the Thai border.