Friday, January 30, 2009

Over five million people face food shortage in Burma

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - At least five million people out of a population of 55 million in military ruled Burma are living below the food poverty line, said the United Nations.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint report 'crop and food security assessment mission to Myanmar' said that there are over five million people who are finding it difficult to access food in Burma after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the delta region in May last year.

"Access to food remains a critical challenge for the poorest people and for vulnerable populations in remote areas of Myanmar [Burma]," Chris Kaye, WFP's Representative for Burma said in a written text.

Meanwhile, FAO/WFP's report said, during the 2008 monsoon season, agricultural production suffered a significant decline in areas severely affected by Cyclone Nargis because of poor quality seeds, salinity and iron toxicity in the water, lack of agricultural labour and draught animals.

"Many households are not earning a living from their pre-Cyclone Nargis livelihoods because they could not access the capital required to acquire productive assets lost during the storm," said the report.

The cyclone-related damage to the livestock and fishing sectors in the Irrawaddy Delta will continue to affect food supply and income generation in 2008/09, the report added.

Moreover, the report also said that around 685 hectares of rice and 400 hectares of maize in 121 villages in Chin state were destroyed as a result of rat infestation triggered by the flowering of bamboo in the beginning of 2007, causing food insecurity in these areas.

"Nearly all households reported losing that year's harvest," the report said, "The situation will remain critical until July 2009 and households without alternative income sources (female, single-headed or the elderly) are especially vulnerable".

Similarly, the people from northern Arakan state in western Burma face malnutrition as a consequence of increase in rice price touching 75 percent compared to the previous year, according to WFP assessment undertaken in June 2008.

"Households were found to be reducing the number of meals consumed," the report said and added that the average number of meals declined from 2.8 to 2.0 over the year prior to the assessment.

With high percentages of food insecurity and vulnerable populations in Burma, the WFP/FAO's joint report said," emergency food assistance continues to be required in several areas of the country".

"And for many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs," said Chris Kaye.

The report also mentioned that the state and division in Burma which urgently need emergency food assistance are cyclone-affected areas of Irrawaddy Division (85 000 tonnes); rat infestation affected areas of Chin State (23 000 tonnes), north of Arakan state (15 000 tonnes), Kachin State (8 300 tonnes); north Shan State (20 200 tonnes), east Shan State (7 000 tonnes) and Magwe Division (27 500 tonnes).

The report also recommended 'Food-for-Education' to be implemented in the areas for both food insecurity and low attendance rate for primary and secondary schools and 'Food-for-work' activities to be created for reducing high unemployment and underemployment rates and high temporary migration rates.

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