Conflict worsening Karen food crisis

Nearly 9000 people are facing severe food shortages in northern Karen state as operations by the Burmese army combine with abnormal weather to weaken grain supplies.

Villagers in the Papun district in Karen state have been forced to resort to lower yielding hillside cultivation following attacks by Burmese troops. The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) says that 118 villages “have either exhausted their current food supplies or will run out of food before the October 2011 harvest”.

Some villagers told KHRG researchers that they expected to have consumed all of their existing food supplies by May 2011.

Lack of funding and difficulties in transport meant that local relief groups were also struggling to provide support, according to Saw Albert, field coordinator for KHRG.

“For hillside cultivation, you have to wait about seven years to work a farm again after you’ve worked on it once. The areas get smaller and smaller so now about two and three families have to share just one farm. Due to poor soil, they don’t produce a lot of rice.”

He added that villagers would now “have to improvise for their survival, such as mixing rice with other vegetables and cutting down their meals from three to one a day”.

On the prognosis for the villagers, Saw Albert was pessimistic: “Maybe some people, unable to travel around, will die of starvation.”

Insect infestation and dry weather have also played a part, KHRG said, “exacerbating the long-standing pressures on food security and triggering the current crisis”. It asserts however that the critical shortage is “fundamentally a consequence of attacks on civilians in Lu Thaw Township by Tatmadaw [Burmese army] forces carried out since 1997”.

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