Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Food Aid Starting to Reach Chin Villages


The director of the Country Agency for Rural Development (CAD), a nongovernmental organization, says his group has handed out food aid to about 20 villages in Chin State, in an area that has experienced food shortages for about two years.

At least 70,000 Chin have faced food shortages after rice crops in Chin State were destroyed by a rat infestation and drought, according to NGO workers in Rangoon.

“There are thirty more villages where our aid hasn’t reached yet because of poor transportation,” said Joseph Win Hlaing Oo, the CAD director. He said the Burmese military government allowed aid groups to distribute rice starting in the middle of November 2008.

"We’ve started rice distribution under a food-for-work program, and we started two weeks ago," he said.

“They had no food when we arrived in some villages,” he said. “They try to borrow food from village to village. They promise to pay it back next year. That is how they survive.”

The 50 villages earmarked by the CAD group are near three townships, Haka, Lantalang and Matupi.

Joseph Win Hlaing Oo said an unknown number of additional villages could be experiencing food shortages. He said the CAD group can help only about 50 villages because of budget restrictions.

Many villagers cried when thanking the aid workers who handed out food, he said.

Ray Hay, a resident of Haka Township, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that other villages are receiving rice aid from other NGOs and religious groups.

A report by the UN World Food Program said 75 percent of the crops in the area had been destroyed by rats and 30 percent of the villagers surveyed had been forced to abandon their fields.

The rat infestation began two years ago in Chin State, sending hundreds of Chin to live near the Indian border where they sought to enter the country illegally in order to find work.

In September 2008, about 50 village elders from Chin State traveled to Mizoran on the Indian border to appeal for international aid to address the food famine. The Chin Union Council previously reported that 31 children had died from a lack of food.

Chin Union Council leaders based on the Indian border said the Burmese military authorities had banned ethnic Chin people from receiving food supplies donated by Burmese in foreign countries.

According to a Mizoram-based Chin relief group, the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee, about 100,000 of the 500,000 people in Chin State had experienced food shortages. The shortage began in December 2007. Many people were surviving on boiled rice, fruit and vegetables.

A famine occurs about every 50 years in the area when the flowering of a native species of bamboo gives rise to an explosion in the rat population, say experts. The International Rice Research Institute had warned of widespread rice shortages in the region.

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