"The cyclone was one of the deadliest storms in recorded history. It blew away 700,000 homes in the delta. It killed three-fourths of the livestock, sank half the fishing fleet and salted a million acres of rice paddies with its seawater surges." The New York Times
Cyclone Nargis hit the shores of Burma on May 2, 2008, bringing fierce winds and heavy rain with it that especially devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region and the former capital city of Rangoon. The regime first talked about merely a few hundred casualties. Later reports confirmed around 90,000 lives were lost from the deadly tidal surges and heavy flooding caused by Cyclone Nargis. Over the next year, around 56,000 people that had been reported missing after the cyclone and still not found were assumed to be dead, bringing the death toll to at least 146,000 people. Although experts consider Nargis to be at least the 8th worst cyclone ever recorded, it is highly possible that it is even higher on the list since the exact death toll is not known and is probably far higher than officially recorded, perhaps upwards of 1 million lives. The Burmese government stopped tallying lost lives after a point because they feared the political ramifications of announcing such a high number of deaths to the world.
Coupling such extreme devastation with the utter failure of the Burmese government to act appropriately and in a timely manner during this disaster resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe that could have been far less destructive.
The Burmese military regime had been warned by Indian authorities 48 hours before the cyclone hit land that there was a deadly cyclone forming, yet the Burmese government failed to take any action in response to this warning. As a result, when the cyclone did reach land and wreaked havoc on the country, the people were completely unprepared to cope with the magnitude of the disaster. While the international community immediately took action to bring relief supplies and aid to the Burmese, the regime blocked visas for aid workers at first, and even refused to accept food, water, and basic necessities for their people. As if the natural disaster did not cause enough damage, needless lives were being lost due to lack of basic medical care and nourishment. Disease ran rampant through the flooded regions, and even more people lost their lives because of that.
The regime's inactivity also led to intense debate regarding the potential to invoke the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in order to justify military intervention for the purpose of delivering humanitarian aid to the survivors of the cyclone.
Finally, several days after the cyclone hit the country, the regime bowed to pressure and allowed supplies to enter the country, although they still refused to grant visas for aid workers to enter the country until May 29, nearly a month after the cyclone hit. Burma’s refusal brought international fury and condemnation, since countries around the world desired to offer aid immediately to the Burmese and were unable to do so. Even as the regime opened up its borders to more and more aid, it was still insufficient and since it had taken so long for the junta to accept aid, thousands of people died waiting for help that was being generously offered. Around the world, organizations called for action, and in Prague, Burma Center Prague held a meeting with other organizations in Old Town Square on May 17, 2008 to call for an improved international response to Cyclone Nargis.