With Myanmar and China ravaged by natural catastrophes and plagued by a combined death toll of over 140,000 and counting, academics and leaders of relief organizations gathered on campus yesterday to evaluate the current global crisis.

Hosted by the Paul Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, the event assembled UCSB faculty and local non-governmental organization affiliates to discuss the destruction left in the wake of the Category 4 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the 7.9 Sichuan earthquake in China. The panel focused on the effectiveness of the nations’ reactions to the disasters, as well as barriers that aid organizations experienced.

Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Direct Relief International, a Goleta-based nonprofit humanitarian medical organization, said his organization initially faced governmental blockades when seeking to deliver direct medical aid to the disaster zones.

“In Myanmar and China, we have huge events taking place in closed countries,” Tighe said. “Because initially Burma was reluctant to issue visas, we had to bang around the borders of the country in places like Bangladesh and Thailand.”

Michael Jerryson, a religious studies graduate student, said he blames the authoritarian nature of the military junta in Myanmar for the difficulty in sending relief to the devastated region.

“There is a clear disregard for the people by the junta in Burma,” Jerryson said. “The Chinese government is the biggest supporter of the Burmese government and is the only country that could put pressure on them to open up their borders [to international aid].”

According to Tighe, UCSB alumnus Matt McCalla is currently stationed inside of Myanmar. Tighe said that McCalla is one of the first Americans granted admittance to the country and that he obtained a visa in conjunction with DRI through a contact in Thailand.

“Having Matt on the ground helps us get better information about just what the country needs,” Tighe said. “Because of the nature of the Burmese government, he is the one who helps arrange the logistics for channeling aid to the disaster zones.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Manoranjan Mohanty, a visiting professor in the Global and International Studies Dept., said the Chinese government responded rapidly to the earthquake’s devastation.

“China as a whole is very good at responding to these types of events because of their emphasis on maintaining order,” Mohanty said. “The People’s Liberation Army was on the scene immediately [following the earthquake] and Premier Wen Jiabao was on the scene in within 30 hours. The Chinese also immediately welcomed world help, unlike Myanmar.”

Turning to the topic of future natural disasters, Dr. Mohanty said he believes the international community must reexamine its role and launch new aid programs.

“Firstly, we should consider what we are doing to the atmosphere, the surface of the earth and the underground,” Mohanty said. “Also, the [United Nations] should establish a human disaster relief program in each country so that they can be a direct channel for the immediate arrival of international aid.”

However, Tighe said relying on medical relief organizations in the country experiencing the disaster usually provides the most assistance to those suffering from natural catastrophes.

“The most effective work comes from people who have lived there before the storm,” Tighe said. “We go looking for those who are locally invested in the area and use them as focal points to provide aid.”