Thursday, 14 November 2019

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UN warns of worsening famine in central dry zone

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Drought-ridden areas of central Burma that have suffered food shortages and low rainfall for three years are facing an even more severe famine in what is one of the poorest areas of the country, the World Food Programme says.

However, Burmese government meteorologist Dr. Tun Lwin says the areas will soon receive monsoonal rains, because of the La Niña effect.

Burma’s central “dry zone” covers nearly 10 per cent of Burma’s total area and is densely populated, underdeveloped and poor, and suffers constant food shortages.

“It’s a slow-burn problem but evidence would suggest it is getting worse”, Reuters AlertNet quoted outgoing World Food Progamme country chief Chris Kaye as saying.

“Firstly rains were delayed. Then rains did begin to kick in and farmers started the planting,” he said. “Since then there’s been a break and now that first set of inputs into the ground is withering and dying.”

But the water needed for crops grown in the dry zone might still become available from monsoon rain later in the year, according to Tun Lwin. 

“There may be two times in October, one time in November and up to December if not in September. There will be monsoon rains in these four to five months,” he said.

A heatwave in April hit Magway, Sagaing, Mandalay, Pegu, Rangoon divisions and Mon, Shan and Arakan states and led to severe water shortages, and in some areas the daily death rate doubled, Mizzima reported in May, citing reports from the region’s free funeral services.

Even tropical plants such as palm and Shah trees were affected by the temperatures in Magway, which reached record highs of more than 104 degrees Farhenheit (40 Celsius).

Burma, once known as the rice bowl of Southeast Asia, was facing a worsening food crisis, which the UN agency blamed on the restrictions the ruling Burmese junta had imposed on WFP work. It had allowed only limited access to the region, rules that had made assessment of the food amounts needed, and distribution, very difficult, the WFP said.

A resident of Yenangyaung confirmed the WFP reports of food shortages already being suffered by local people.

“Some could have only one meal a day. Some could cook only two-three empty condensed milk tins of rice for a family of four instead of normal requirement of four tins,” an opposition activist working for farmers said. “Families have to share the limited resources available to them. Sometimes they would have to skip dinner and have a meal only on mornings that they could find rice.”

Another consequence of the food shortage was that more young people were being forced to migrate away from homes in search of work, he added.

According to local residents contacted by Mizzima, a lot of sesame fields were also recently damaged in central Burma.

Sesame is the main crop grown in the parched region that includes Chauk, Kyaupadaung, Meiktila, Yenangyaung, Magway, Taungdwingyi, Pakokku, Yesagyo and Pauk, and minor crops are peanuts and green mung beans.

Farmers who lost their sesame harvest this season are depending on the monsoonal rain for their remaining groundnuts, which are to be harvested in the next two months.

“The La Niña will begin in August and it has started in the Pacific [Ocean]. If this La Niña becomes moderately stronger, the entire Indochina region will experience wet and humid climate including Burma so that Burma will get a late rainy season especially storm water”, Dr. Tun Lwin said.

La Niña translates from the Spanish as “The Child Girl” and meteorologically is the opposite of the more well known El Niño. The term La Niña refers to the extensive cooling of the central and eastern Pacific.

Globally La Niña, in very general terms, will mean that those parts of the world that normally experience dry weather will be drier and those with wet weather will be wetter. Atlantic and Pacific hurricane activity will increase with La Niña and the effects of severe droughts are likely in those already dry parts of the world.

The Agriculture and Irrigation Ministry commissioned a UN food security survey in 11 states and divisions including areas hit by Cyclone Nargis and Chin State. The report said more than five million people in Burma go hungry every day.


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