Thursday, January 8, 2009

Humanitarian crisis in Chin state likely to escalate in 2009: NGO

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – With crop yields declining due to severe weather conditions and the devastation caused by rat infestation, a humanitarian crisis is imminent for western Burma's Chin state in 2009, a leading humanitarian worker in Chin state said.

Joseph Win Hlaing Oo, director of the Rangoon-based Country Agency for Rural Development in Myanmar (CAD), on Thursday said the humanitarian crisis in Chin state caused by both drought and rat infestation in 2008 is far from being over.

"This year, the situation seems to be getting worse," Joseph told Mizzima, adding that people have already begun running short of food.

"People will need more help," iterated Joseph, whose organization with help from the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun distributing aid supplies to a few villages in Chin state.

On Thursday, CAD began distributing about 700 rice bags to villagers affected by drought and rat infestation in Hakha township, home to the capital of Chin state.

Since the end of 2006, food security in the region has been gradually threatened by the infestation of rats, which are multiplying in great numbers after consuming a special bamboo flower that blossoms only once every 50 years in Chin state.

"Today, we started distributing rice bags to the people in four villages, including Pinam in Hakha township," Joseph said.

But he said aid is not simply given, with villagers instead receiving aid in exchange for community work, such as assistance in the construction of roads to connect villages, under a program called "Food-for-Work".

"We provide rice to villagers according to the work. We give [a total of] 100 bags of rice to 18 people on completion of a mile of road," said Joseph, adding that the 'Work-for-Food' model was utilized to help villagers get the best out of aid supplies.

Joseph said CAD intends to reach at least 30,000 people in three townships - Hakha, Thangtlang and Matupi – with aid supplies. However his initial plan of distributing aid last November was derailed due to difficulties in purchasing good quality rice and high transportation cost.

Additionally, he said aid supplies are still insufficient, as many more villages in other parts of Chin state, including those that are close to the Indo-Burmese border, are yet to be covered. According to him, the food crisis is far more severe along the Indo-Burmese border.

"The problems in the areas close to the India-Burma border are more serious than other areas," said Joseph, with the crux of the problem being a lack of proper roads and means of transportation to reach those areas.

According to an assessment done by the WFP and other relief agencies such as CAD, KARET, World Vision and Karuna Myanmar Social Service (KMSS), at least 60,000 people from 139 villages in Chin state are severely affected by food scarcity caused by rat infestation.

In 2008, the WFP coordinated a relief aid program to help victims in Chin state with 1,451 tons of rice through international and local relief agencies, Joseph said. He added that an additional 800 million kyat (approximately US$ 600,000) will be made available for the first six months of 2009.

Meanwhile Van Lian Thang, spokesperson for the exile-based Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee (CHRC), recently said people from at least 16 villages in northern Chin state are facing food insufficiency as the harvest of crops such maize and paddy has fallen sharply.

"Because the rate of crops harvested this year is very low, people from some villages in Tedim and Falam townships are facing a shortage of food," said Van Lian Thang.

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