Friday, 15 November 2019

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Officials snub hungry Chin villagers amid rat plague


New Delhi (Mizzima) – Rats destroying crops during a months-long plague in Chin State has caused serious food shortages in at least 120 villages in the state’s south, but local authorities would “rather wait until people are dead” and are denying the UN food-supply body access to starving people, political parties and NGOs say.

rat-destroy2Villagers in Mindat, Paletwa, Matupi and Kanpetlet townships were facing a food crisis as the rats had eaten food in the fields and in village pantries, but the authorities were doing nothing to aid them, they said.

Chin Progressive Party deputy general secretary Sein Tun yesterday described the nature of the rats’ attacks and official inaction.

“Rats come in large groups and can destroy an acre of crops in no time. After all of the crops are destroyed, they move into the villages, where they eat rice from granaries,” Sein Tun told Mizzima. “Local authorities were told about the situation but did not try to help the villagers.”

Sources said the authorities had failed to co-operate with an emergency committee set up to lobby for aid, which included priests and community leaders.

“Crops haven’t borne fruit because the rats ate everything. They ate not only maize but also the stalks and this has been going on since mid-July,” emergency committee member Thang Bu said. “The district and township peace and development councils have known about this since the middle of last month but they’ve done nothing.”

rat-destroy1“It seems they’d rather wait until people are dead”, Thang Bu added.

Officials downplayed the crisis. When Minister of Religious Affairs Aung Ko and Chin State Peace and Development Council chairman Major General Hung Ngai met in a district office early in August, they said rat infestations had been occurring for a long time, so they should not be considered unusual.

The combined population of 50 villages in Mindat, 30 in Paletwa and Matupi, and 10 in Kanpetlet was around 4,000, mostly farmers who had been growing maize, rice, yellow millet, red millet, beans and sesame before the plague struck.

The World Food Programme (WFP) workers had since mid-July repeatedly asked Mindat District and township authorities for access to the plague-hit areas to distribute 300 bags of rice to victims, but were continually rejected.

“The emergency committee contacted the World Food Programme, which was ready to help the victims if the authorities allowed it,” Sein Tun said. “So, the committee submitted an appeal letter to the authorities mid-July. But the authorities replied that they could not allow it.”

Mizzima asked Mindat Township Peace and Development Council office about the 300 bags. A spokesman confirmed the infestation but refused to give any details on other matters.

Meanwhile, no spokesman was available for comment at the WFP office in Rangoon, an employee said.

Terah, a field co-ordinator at the Chin Human Rights Organisation in India’s Mizoram State, said famine victims had resorted to eating wild berries and root vegetables from the jungle to survive. He also pointed out that it was the policy of Burmese ruling military junta (the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC) to reject aid from foreign countries.

“They don’t want foreign countries’ influences but they can’t do anything. They can’t help the victims. They are afraid that people will depend on the foreign countries if they accept their aid,” he said.

Villagers were using all available tools including domestic mouse traps to battle the rats, and some were simply eating their foe, sources said. 

Mizzima reported on August 3 that a plague of rats had grown so pervasive in Falam Township in the state’s north that villagers had been forced to fashion home-made guns to fight the pests.

“The villagers had to battle the rats on a self-help basis … Some people have dried the meat but selling rat meat is not a traditional custom in Chin State”, Chin Progressive Party third secretary Sun Thaih from Paletwa told Mizzima.

“They are bigger than normal house rats [but] … smaller than farm rats,” he said. “They used to live in the jungle, but recently, after eating the currently blooming bamboo flowers, they multiplied exponentially and drained the jungle of food. They then spread to the village areas.”

Compounding the Burmese farmers’ rat problem was the late arrival of the Southeast Asian monsoon. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Asia-Pacific Food Update released today said: “Drought conditions were also reported to have delayed paddy sowing.”

Drought conditions in the greater Mekong River region at the start of the planting season were expected to affect Asia’s 2010 paddy harvest, the report for July said, lowering projections for the region by 6.1 million tonnes. Reductions are expected in Cambodia, Burma and Thailand as well as in the Philippines and China.

 

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