Wed 01 Oct 2008, IMNA
More than a hundred thousand people in Chin State, in northwest Burma, face starvation after a plague of rats destroyed crops in the area. Burma’s military government is offering no help, says the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC).
According to an ENC statement made on September 30th, people from more than twenty villages – one fourth of Chin State’s population – face food shortages and disease. More than two thousand ethnic Chin people have fled to India in search of food. At least thirty children have died from lack of food, though the number is thought to be higher.
The ENC, a Thailand-based exile group comprised of representatives from Burma’s many ethnic groups, called upon the international community for support. “We call on UN agencies such as the World Food Programme, UN OCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], UNDP [UN Development Program] and other international aid organization to provide food and assistance to people who have faced food shortages since 2006, while the military government ignores the case,” ENC General Secretary Duwa Mahkaw Hkun Sa told IMNA.
“The food crisis in Chin State has reached a point where immediate action is warranted in order to prevent a human tragedy of great proportions. The international community should now act immediately on this crisis to avert a Nargis-like situation,” says Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, ENC Vice Chairman, in an official statement by the group. ENC also called upon the government of India and Mizoram to extend assistance to avert a humanitarian tragedy in Chin State.
The junta, on the other hand, has disregarded the situation and is providing no help to Chin State. It has even prevented international NGOs from providing aid to the region, says Duwa Mahkaw Hkun Sa. The ENC statement addressed the junta’s restrictions, demanding the junta “immediately to allow complete and unfettered access to the affected area in Chin state and cooperate fully with aid organizations and provide them a conductive environment for a meaningful and effective relief efforts in Chin State.”
The situation is likely to get worse, as the rats have destroyed rice paddies and other farmland. The crop destruction comes at a time when Burma is already struggling to recover from the loss of twenty percent of its rice paddies, which were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis in May. The boom in the rat population, and the attendant impact on agriculture of the region, is being caused by the life cycle of “Melocanna Baccifera,” a type of bamboo that flowers once every fifty years and, according to a report by the Chin Human Rights organization, covers one fifth of Chin State. After flowering in 2006, the bamboo produced a fruit with a large nutrient-rich seed. Rats fed on the seeds, their population skyrocketed and the animals eventually descended upon farms looking for food.