There's been an impassioned debate on the Internet - some of it on the comments section of WorldChanging - about the impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami in Burma. Some, including many Burmese democracy activists, have argued that statistics on deaths in Burma from the tsunami may be underreported by the military government of Myanmar, while others have argued that it is physically possible for Burma to have been spared major tsunami damage. Central to the argument that the Myanmar government was concealing damage were reports from UN agencies working in Burma that speculated that death tolls could be significantly higher than the Myanmar government was reporting.
Thomas Crampton, writing in the New York Times, reports that the UN has now revised its estimates downwards, putting them in line with Myanmar government estimates. Crampton also cites a Pacific Tsunami Warning Center expert, who says the tsunami's impacts were more severe on west-facing coastlines, than on east-facing coastlines. (Crampton is a long-time Asia hand, based for many years in Hong Kong with the International Herald Tribune - he knows Burma well and certainly understands the possibility that the Myanmar government is not always believable.) The Irrawady, an independent online newspaper run by Burmese in exile, has a similar story, noting that the UN's revision of figures was based on correlating figures with 15 other NGOs operating in Burma.
The UN report does not comment on the fate of the Coco Islands, which are off-limits to the UN and NGOs for reasons of military security. As the islands are just north of the heavily affected Indian Andaman islands, it is difficult to believe they were spared the tsunami's impact, though the Myanmar government claims that impact on the islands was minor.
Meanwhile, Burmese opposition newspapers like Democratic Voice of Burma continue to report on Burmese fishermen, found washed up on Thai beaches. Sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies", the Salon or Moken people, who ply the waters near Ranong in southern Thailand, may turn out to be the Burmese most affected by the tsunami, along with Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand.
One of the lessons of the tsunami has been that, despite pervasive satellite news coverage and the mobilization of global attention towards natural disasters, it can take days or weeks before we know what actually happened. And, in areas like the Coco Islands, isolated by geography and a profoundly opaque government, we may never learn what occurred.
Well, after having seen the NOAA animation on how the tsunami developed and traveled, it's indeed clear that Burma escaped the worst waves.
A step-by-step animation of NOAA's movie, here:
The problem however is that neither the Burmese government, nor the Western media have reported on the situation in Burma. And that in itself raises some serious questions.
Why do we have to find this out all by ourselves?
The "Silenced" Tsunami Story in Burma (Myanmar)
The Tsunami on December 26th. was the greatest natural disaster of our age. The media has given wall to wall coverage to the disaster and response. Burma's border is just 30 miles up the coast from Phuket, Thailand. No one is covering this story because their Military Junta won't allow any kind of reporting on their country. I have been doing research trying to get as much information as I can, and have published my first blog. Please send it to as many people and media sources as possible. There is a story here. If you have links or other information to add, you are welcome to do so. It would be helpful to give the sources of your information including links to make it useable for media sources. I believe at least 400 people have died, and many thousands more are at risk. This story needs to be told. Thanks,