The longer the military government of Myanmar waits to allow relief agencies into the cyclone-ravaged country, the higher the death toll among its impoverished and homeless people will be. The weekend storm already may have killed 70,000, and international relief experts say the toll could rise to 100,000 without prompt aid. The generals running the isolated Southeast Asian country were neither prepared for Tropical Cyclone Nargis nor equipped to handle its aftermath. Those may be the devastating consequences of their oppressive policies and refusal to engage with the international community.
But the priority now should be giving the Myanmarese a fighting chance at survival by expediting receipt of drinking water, temporary shelters, food and basic supplies from the United Nations and humanitarian groups.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been a pariah state because of its human rights abuses; its detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for more than 12 years, and the subjugation of its 57 million citizens. The Bush administration, represented by first lady Laura Bush, quickly offered U.S. aid in one breath and harsh words for the government in the next. Myanmar's brutal regime deserves condemnation, but the focus now should be on getting the cyclone survivors timely and life-saving help. The political thrashing can come later, especially from an administration that botched relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina.
If the government of Myanmar wants to rebuff U.S. offers of help, so be it, but it should waive visa requirements for the humanitarian agencies and organizations whose only mission is to serve those in distress.