In a modern day equivalent of a fiddling Nero, the military junta in Myanmar remains indifferent to the colossal tragedy that has befallen the country. Without bothering about the rescue and rehabilitation of those affected by the last week’s catastrophic cyclone that is estimated to have claimed close to 100,000 lives and left about 1.5 million people homeless on the Irrawaddy delta, the Generals busied themselves with preparations for the referendum on the new draft constitution. Ignoring appeals from around the world to let in aid and aid workers, the ruling junta wants to handle the relief work on its own. The Myanmar administration is clearly not equal to a task of this magnitude and it remains unconcerned about the imminent threat of an epidemic outbreak in the affected region. More than ever before, the insidious consequences of the lack of democratic accountability of the leadership are beginning to show up. It is shocking that an administration can be so callous about responding to a humanitarian crisis of the magnitude Myanmar is facing. Instead, it was hell-bent on going through with a referendum meant to prevent Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting elections or holding public office, and to provide for a statutory role for the armed forces in the proposed Parliament. Despite the huge loss of lives, the referendum was held as scheduled on Saturday except in places where the devastation has been extensive.

Driven by the sole objective of legitimising itself and clinging to power, it has remained unmoved by the fact that people are dying without access to food and medicines. What confidence will the international community have if it is asked to hand over all the aid to the Myanmar army and allow it to take care of the relief and rehabilitation of the cyclone-hit population? Unless the Non-Government Organisations and aid workers from donor countries are directly involved in the distribution of aid and provision of immediate assistance to the flood-ravaged people, the millions of dollars in aid and relief may get deflected away from the target group. It is time the international community found ways of putting an end to the suffering of the Burmese people and clearing the decks for an early return to democracy. In this exercise, its neighbours, especially China and India, besides the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), have a major role to play. The junta must be persuaded to see reason before it is too late.