Thousands cross into Thailand for free food

Sept 3, 2009 (DVB), Around 4000 Burmese crossed into Thailand yesterday to attend an annual food donation event in the border town of Mae Sai, according to Burmese residents in the town.

The event was held at a Chinese temple in the town, and about 5000 people in total collected bags of rice, instant noodle packs, salt and canned fish.

"A lot of poor people from both sides of the border came to get the donation items and about 80 percent were from Burma," said a Mae Sai resident.

A Burmese national at the event said the donation items would help his family survive for about two days.

"Two days is still not bad , I brought my kids along to the donation and they were given 20 Thai baht (around $US0.6) each," said the person, adding that said he had been receiving the donation since 1997.

"There are three adults in my family so we got three bags of rice and the cash the kids got paid covered the transportation fee."

Burmese living close to the border often cross into Thailand for food and medical treatment.

The Burmese government is estimated to spend only around 0.3 percent of its annual budget on healthcare.

In 2000 the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked Burma's healthcare system second worst in the world, above the then war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

Burma's rice production industry was severely damaged by cyclone Nargis last year, which destroyed more than one million hectares of rice paddy in the southern Irrawaddy delta region.

The ruling junta was criticized in the wake of the cyclone for continuing to export rice at the same levels as before, despite widespread food shortages within the country.

The donation event in Mae Sai is sponsored supported by wealthy Thai business owners.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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