Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Swarms of rats destroy crops in townships in Chin State

By Zalat May
29 July 2008

Aizawl (Mizzima)- Rodents have been attacking crops in western Burma's Chin state resulting in severe food shortage and leading to a famine like situation in at least five townships, local residents said.

"The rats have destroyed crops in paddy and corn fields in our village. The fields are swarming with rats," Thang Hu, chairman of the Bungtuah Village Peace and Development Council in Hakha Township, told Mizzima.

At least five townships – Hakha, Thantlang, Falam, Paletwa and Matupi – are at the mercy of ever increasing rats, which according to elders is a once in 50 years phenomenon, when bamboos flower. Bamboos flower every 50 years when its life cycle comes to and end.

The flowers are eaten by rats leading to increased fertility where the rodents multiply. The rats then invade fields and grain store houses and eat the crops leading to a famine like situation which is called the Mautam in Mizoram state in Northeast India contiguous to Chin state. Mizoram also faces a similar situation every 50 years but the government takes preventive steps.

"The situation is getting out of hand and we don't know how to cope with this problem. We have to kill them with rat poison but they keep multiplying," another local official of from Tanglo village in Thantlang Township told Mizzima.

The people are faced with a severe shortage of food and are being forced to leave their village in search of food.

The present multiplication of rats started since the end of 2007 and continue harass people in several other townships in the state, according to a Canada based Chin Human Rights Organization, which is closely monitoring the situation in Chin state.

Tera, in-charge of the CHRO in Mizoram bordering Chin state in Burma, said at least 70,000 people including 50,000 people in one township – Paletwa - have been affected by the famine caused by rats.

While several people have fled to neighboring Mizoram state in India, a large number of people remaining in Burma are left to the mercy of people who are not yet affected by the famine, Tera said.

"Now people have to even eat wild berries found in the jungle and some wild root vegetables," Tera added.

But following the monsoon rains, these wild root vegetables become bitter and takes a lot of time to cook so now they cannot rely on these, he added.

According to the villagers, people in the unaffected areas have donated over 1,000 rice bags to 60 villages. However, local people face serious financial constraints.

While both villagers and people in the towns are suffering from the famine, local authorities have not responded with any assistance to the people but are strictly monitoring relief supplies that are sent to the people by relatives in foreign countries, Tera said.

"The authorities threatened the people when they came to know they were receiving foreign assistance and ordered them not to accept it," he added.

According to him, about 700 people have fled to the Indo-Burma and to the Bangladesh-Burma border after the famine struck. They are now living in places near Khaki village in lower Teddim, Lengtaleng Township in Mizoram State in India.

"They have built houses in this new village, trying to be self-reliant by working as daily wages earners. There are about 30 to 40 children who cannot attend schools," said Tera, who visited these new villages.

"There are about 79 villages in Thantlang, Matupi and Paletwa Townships which are affected by the famine. People from 11 villages from Paletwa Township arrived in Saiha. They fled their villages after rats destroyed their crops. They hope to get some assistance here. There are a lot of people arriving here," said Toe Par, Secretary of 'Mara People's Party' in Saiha, Mizoram on the Indo-Burma border.

"The flowering of bamboo will last not for one year but for about four to five years. I'd like to urge the Chin people to assist these people", said Thang Yen, General Secretary of the 'Chin National Front', an armed student rebel group fighting for self-determination of Chins.

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