As President Obama has traveled through Asia this past week, media attention has rightly focused on his trip and on some of the highlights (United States-Philippines defense agreement) and lowlights (breakdown of TPP talks, the president’s decision not to meet Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim). But although the president has briefly mentioned the looming catastrophe in western Myanmar, he has not recently devoted much time to talking about the situation there.
A new story in Reuters, which already won a much-deserved Pulitzer for excellent reporting earlier this year on the crisis in western Myanmar, shows how the situation in Rakhine State, already disastrous, has emerged into a full-fledged humanitarian emergency comparable with some of the worst in the world.
Basically, for nearly two years now it could have been predicted—and was predicted by many people—that the inter-religious conflict in Rakhine State eventually would have enormous repercussions for the health and welfare of both Muslims and Buddhists living in the state. The remoteness of many communities affected by violence, the rising number of internally displaced people, and the lack of any real government health care infrastructure combine to foster and spread disease. Until recently, international aid organizations—including the biggest health care operation in Rakhine State, Doctors Without Borders—were helping the state stave off the worst possible humanitarian emergency, even as Buddhist paramilitaries raged throughout Rakhine and Naypyidaw looked the other way. Now, with many aid organizations expelled from Rakhine, there is nothing to stop the emergency from spiraling further out of control. Unfortunately, Naypyidaw still either denies there is a serious problem in Rakhine State or abets the catastrophe.