Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Mother Nature's Double Whammy

The last time so many people had been killed so quickly by the whim of nature was the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, which claimed about 225,000 lives. The death toll was approximately the same for two tragedies in 2008: the cyclone that devastated Burma (known by its isolationist military regime as Myanmar) on May 2 and the earthquakes that flattened schools and villages in Sichuan, China's most populous province. Cyclone Nargis killed perhaps 150,000; China says 87,000 died in the quakes. The world then saw two authoritarian nations go about disaster relief in divergent ways. The isolationist Burmese junta tried to shut out help from the rest of the world, while the Chinese, who were concerned about the Olympics and were already coping with the public-relations disaster of Tibetan demonstrations, allowed foreigners in as well as relatively open media coverage of its catastrophe. (Burma, May 2; Sichuan, May 12)