Rat infestation compounds Chin food crisis

Sept 24, 2009 (DVB), A mass infestation of rats in western Burma is likely to compound a food shortage in a state that has lost thousands of acres of crops over the past two years, according to local aid workers.

An aid worker in Chin state, which borders India, said that local farmers had reported the ongoing destruction of rice and millet crops by rats.

The infestation was sparked in 2007 by the mass flowering of bamboo, which rats then feed on. The flowering on this scale occurs only once every 50 years.

"We are predicting the same situation [food shortage] as last year and it won't get better until June next year," the aid worker said.

"The government is not providing aid but they are not stopping our projects. We are allowed to work here freely," he said.

According to the Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), the fallout from the last mass bamboo flowering in Burma reportedly caused the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 in India's neighbouring Mizoram state.

A report released by the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) said that approximately 1700 acres of rice paddy and 1000 acres of millet have been destroyed by rats since 2007. Around 23,000 tons of food aid is needed for the 470,000-strong population of Chin state.

The CHRO said that the crisis has affected seven towns in the region, and 54 have so far died from famine-related illnesses, with children comprising the majority of deaths.

A WFP official in Burma, Swe Swe Win, said that the organization would be running a 'food for work' programme in the region, but that "no other component activity will be conducted".

The WFP had said that the food crisis in Chin state was "worse than any other region visited by the Mission [in Burma]".

Reporting by Min Lwin

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