NEW YORK —
On May 2, 2008, a strengthening Cyclone Nargis came off the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal and pummeled central Myanmar, causing what would become the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Some 138,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the storm, though figures are notoriously inaccurate, as the government is thought to have suppressed the death toll. High winds, storm surges, and heavy rains destroyed entire villages, stranding millions in remote areas without access to food, water, or medicine. Compounding matters, the ruling military junta refused offers of international aid for nearly four days, only finally appealing to the United Nations on May 6. The first international air deliveries of supplies started arriving two days later, and in limited quantities, as the junta refused access to NGOs and humanitarian relief agencies waiting with planes full of supplies just across the border in Thailand.
The international furor at the Myanmar regime — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused the government of creating a "man-made catastrophe" — focused attention on the paranoid callousness of the ruling junta. It may not have directly empowered the opposition movement, but the shocking images of corpses dangling from trees and of families starving even weeks after the storm, exposed the regime's incompetence and cruelty and foretold the beginning of the end of the military junta.