History of Myanmar

Cyclone Nargis
Damaged boats after Cyclone Nargis ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
2008 May 1

Cyclone Nargis

Myanmar (Burma)

In May 2008, Myanmar was hit by Cyclone Nargis, one of the deadliest natural disasters in the country's history. The cyclone resulted in winds up to 215 km/h and caused devastating loss, with over 130,000 people estimated dead or missing and damage amounting to 12 billion US dollars. Despite the urgent need for aid, Myanmar's isolationist government initially restricted the entry of foreign assistance, including United Nations planes delivering essential supplies. The UN described this hesitation to permit large-scale international relief as "unprecedented."


The government's restrictive stance drew sharp criticism from international bodies. Various organizations and countries urged Myanmar to allow unrestricted aid. Eventually, the junta agreed to accept limited types of aid such as food and medicine but continued to disallow foreign aid workers or military units in the country. This hesitation led to accusations of the regime contributing to a "man-made catastrophe" and potentially committing crimes against humanity.


By May 19, Myanmar allowed aid from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and later agreed to allow all aid workers, regardless of nationality, into the country. However, the government remained resistant to the presence of foreign military units. A U.S. carrier group full of aid was forced to leave after being denied entry. In contrast to international criticism, the Burmese government later praised U.N. aid, though reports also emerged of the military trading aid for labor.

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