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Burma’s opportunity now: Rebuild for a safer future

Simple remedies abound, experts say. But will the government act?

Rebuilding: A woman sits in the reconstructed frame of her home in Dalah, Myanmar (Burma), on May 8. Her original home was washed away in the May 3 cyclone’s storm surge.

Jessica E. Davis/AP

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When tropical cyclone Nargis slammed into southern Burma (Myanmar) on May 3 it left an enormous humanitarian crisis in its wake. But it also has presented the country with an opportunity to rebuild in its hard-hit Irrawaddy delta in ways that increase the region’s resilience in the face of future storms.

That’s the assessment of a range of specialists who have taken part in recovery efforts in areas as diverse as post-Katrina New Orleans and post-tsunami Thailand and Sri Lanka.
No one underestimates the challenge Myanmar faces – from the sheer number of people affected and the country’s poverty to the obdurate behavior of the country’s authoritarian military junta, which at press time was still allowing only a trickle of outside aid, and no outside disaster-relief experts, into the country.

“This is a great human tragedy,” says Deborah Brosnan, a marine scientist and founder of the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in Portland, Ore., a kind of “ecologists without borders” that aims to bring scientific expertise to bear on conservation and sustainable-development issues worldwide. With fatalities from the storm topping more than 31,000 to date, the issue, she asks, is whether “these people will have died in vain.”

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