Anger at the Myanmar Tragedy

Writer Hanna Ingber Win has struggled to get through to her family living in Myanmar. The fact that the country is poor doesn't make it less tragic, she insists.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Trying to reach people in Myanmar isn't easy under normal circumstances. This week calling people there has been almost impossible. Los Angeles writer Hannah Ingber Win says she finally got through to relatives.

Ms. HANNAH INGBER WIN: My husband is Burmese, and his parents live in a simple one-room structure in outer Rangoon. They don't have a phone, let alone access to the Internet. Saturday's cyclone wiped out entire villages in the Ayeyarwady Delta, and left much of Rangoon without electricity. For my husband and Burmese friends living in the United States, this means days spent trying to get in touch with friends and family back home. They call for hours. They send frantic emails. Most of them have had no luck. They have no idea if their family is safe or has enough food and water. We managed to get through to my husband's uncle four days after the storm. His first words to me, we survived. He wasn't joking.

The city has never experienced such disaster. The streets are covered in fallen trees, billboards, and broken glass. If you drive, he told me, it's like you're driving in the forest. When I lived in Rangoon four years ago, my apartment was on Sule Pagoda Road, a couple blocks from the Bandoola Garden and its water fountain. I now look at photos on the Internet of people wading through that fountain using the dirty water to wash themselves, or bringing buckets of it home. Five days after the storm hit, we finally got words from my husband's cousin, who lives in Rangoon. She is safe, but worried about water. A 20-liter bottle has tripled in price. People in Rangoon aren't just thirsty, she said, they're angry. She said the soldiers don't help clean up the damage or provide needed food and water. I can't name my husband's cousin or uncle because even natural disasters are politically sensitive in Burma. They're like state secrets.

When I lived in Rangoon, I didn't know a storm hit western Burma until my aunt in Westchester, New York, emailed me. Now I have more information in Los Angeles than my family does in Rangoon. I remember American journalists calling the Hurricane Katrina disaster a scene out of a third-world country. That made me angry. My family and friends live in a so-called third-world nation, and when such disasters happen there, when their government refuses to sound a timely alarm, when it doesn't provide food, electricity, shelter, or medical care, when it prevents aid from getting in, when it leaves people to live with almost nothing, or die, it is also a tragedy. Just because they live in a poor country doesn't make it less tragic. I asked my husband's uncle if he was angry at the government's response to the disaster. He laughed and said no, because we're used to it, and then the line went dead.

BRAND: Hannah Ingber Win is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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