Rats and Kyats: Bamboo Flowering Causes a Hunger Belt in Chin State, Burma
Many reports still call it "folklore" or "superstition" but it is a historical and biological fact: the bamboo species Melocanna baccifera blossoms en masse approximately every 48 years. This particular type of bamboo grows throughout a large area of Northeast India (primarily in Mizoram and Manipur States) as well as regions of Burma (mainly Chin State) and Bangladesh (Hill Tracts.) It densely covers valleys and hillsides in the typically rugged terrain of the region. The blossoming bamboo produces fruit, then dies off. The fruit has a large seed, resembles avocado, and is packed with protein and other nutrients. During the fruiting stage of the cycle, local species of forest rats feed on the bamboo fruits/seeds. The rats cease cannibalizing their young and begin to reproduce in an accelerated birth surge, producing a new rat generation as often as every three months. Once the burgeoning population of rats has stripped the forest of bamboo fruit/seeds, nocturnal rat swarms quietly invade farms and villages to devour crops and stored rice, other grains, potatoes, maize, other vegetables, chili, and sesame. The rodents often grow to particularly large sizes and can gnaw through bamboo and wood floors, walls, storage containers and granaries. This phenomenon has historically resulted in mass starvation among the indigenous peoples of the region where Melocanna baccifera bamboo grows. According to The Times of India, "the last flowering in Mizoram, in 1958-59, caused a famine that killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of livelihoods." The bamboo flowering and rat infestation cycle has in the past lasted for about three years, until the rats run out of food and their populations return to normal.
The bamboo flowering cycle is called "Mautam" by the Mizo people of Mizoram and the related Chin people of Burma. It is called "Yu Li Hku" (rat famine) by the people of northern Burma's Kachin State. These indigenous people's predictions of the cycle and its effects have been discounted by government authorities in the past. When the Indian government ignored the situation in 1959 it resulted in a long-running insurgency. In "Strangers of the Mist" Sanjoy Hazarika wrote, "the Mizos formed a few famine-fighting squads. The most prominent of these groups was the Mizo Famine Front (MFF), launched by a young bank clerk named Laldenga... Eventually the Mizo Famine Front was converted into the Mizo National Front (MNF) with independence as its goal." The MNF fought the Indian army until a peace settlement in the mid 1980s brought a mutually acceptable level of autonomy to Mizoram. A former MNF leader, Zoramthanga is currently Chief Minister of Mizoram State.
India and Bangladesh Crisis
"The blossoming, the rat problem, and the food shortages began two years ago in India then moved into Bangladesh in January and have now headed south into Burma as well." BBC News, March 22, 2008
Having learned a lesson from the late 50s - early 60s famine, the government of India has been preparing for the present bamboo flowering cycle since 2001, with the active participation of the Mizoram State government, and the expertise of botanists and zoologists. Still, no plan was developed which could actually prevent the first Mautam of the 21st Century, or even effectively mitigate it. Rat population control centered on incentives for rat killing, paid by government agencies which collect rat tails as proof. Some experts advocated establishing open spaces between bamboo forests and farms or villages to keep the rats away. Building rat-proof granaries was another strategy that was promoted. Zoramthanga's Mizoram State government advocated cutting and selling bamboo as it began to die off, but even culling for commercial export did not significantly reduce the vast thickets in largely inaccessible hill areas. Perhaps the most useful measures were the construction of roads to remote Mizoram villages, and helipads in the most remote mountain areas, so that food relief aid could be brought in when the Mautam's inevitable effects took place.
In October, 2005 the first bamboo flowers appeared in Northeast India. The rodent swarms followed, as always. Indian troops stationed in the Northeast were dispatched on rat killing patrols. By 2007, the rats had ravaged food and seed stocks. The Indian Government, US Government and non-government organizations (NGOs) funded food relief for the affected areas.
Despite the years of preparation, some observers (including Mizoram's bloggers) considered the response to the Mautam crisis by the Indian and Mizoram State governments inadequate, even corrupt, with possible political repercussions. An Asia Times report predicted that Mizoram's food crisis would be at its worst in the Fall, commenting, "That's when Mizoram will go to the polls to elect representatives to its 40-member assembly. Zoramthanga had better start praying for a Pied Piper to rescue his party at the polls." The Mautam had become a political issue, with the leader of India's Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, visiting Mizoram in mid-June, 2008 and criticizing the Mizoram State government, commenting, "During this visit I have seen how the MNF government has failed to tackle the famine despite huge central funds allocated to deal with the famine."
In Bangladesh, where the bamboo flowering takes place in the politically unstable Hill Tracts (Chittagong, Bandarban, Rangamati) there had been little preparation and the effects were obvious in 2008, with a BBC report quoting a village rat catcher: "My wife, my five children and I normally eat rice, but the rats have destroyed everything... All we have left are the rats and these wild potatoes." In mid-July, 2008 the UN's World Food Program (WFP) announced that it had commenced food relief aid (rice, cooking oil and nutrition biscuits) distribution to Mautam affected people in Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts.
According to "Critical Point: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma's Chin State" a July 2008 report by the Chin Human Rights Organization, as much as one fifth of Burma's Chin State is covered with bamboo forests. Chin State, in Burma's northwest, borders Northeast India. It is a particularly impoverished and isolated region of Burma. Most people are hill rice farmers, of the predominantly Christian Chin (also called Zo) ethnic groups, related to the Mizo people of India. The Chins have suffered ethnic and religious persecution by the military regime of Burma, and a small scale insurgency by the Chin National Front (CNF) is active. The CNF normally imposes a tax of 3,000 kyats per person, per year on villagers in its areas of operation, but issued a statement in February 2008 pledging to reduce that amount to just a token 10 kyats during the Mautam crisis.
"Critical Point" states that due to the Mautam and other factors, "as many as 200 villages may be directly affected by severe food shortages, and no less than 100,000 people or 20 percent of the entire population of Chin State may be in need of immediate food aid." According to "Critical Point" the bamboo flowering first happened in Burma in 2006, with the rodent infestation increasing through 2007 until "in the most affected areas of Paletwa and Matupi townships, farmers are left with just a tenth of their usual harvest after the rats attack their rice fields" The bamboo die-off would also affect the Chins through the loss of harvestable bamboo that they use for most of their building and implements.
In contrast to the bordering regions of India, there had been little to no government response to the impending Mautam by Burma's military regime (which calls the country "Myanmar.") As was obvious from the regime's response to May 2008's Cyclone Nargis in the southern Irrawaddy Delta region, Burma's regime has minimal interest in effective relief aid or sustainable development, especially in non-Burman ethnic regions. "Critical Point" cites other factors contributing to "food insecurity" in the Chin State even before the Mautam, particularly the regime's forced conversion of food crop land to tea and jatropha plantations (jatropha is an introduced crop intended for biofuel use.) "Critical Point" also cited pressures on farmers from corruption and excessive taxation such as the regime's 2,000 kyats per family "farming permit" plus confiscation of 240 kilograms of harvested rice.
2008 has been a bad food year for the whole world, with rice shortages in much of Asia. Burma stood to lose most of the mid-year rice crop in its most productive region, the southern Irrawaddy Delta, due to inundation by Cyclone Nargis in May. By mid-2008, increasing reports had emerged of a hunger belt in western Chin State. With grain crops gone, malnutrition had increased. Rural Chins were relying on foraging for "famine foods": roots (wild yam) dug up in the forest, tree pith cooked to an edible state. For agricultural people, transitioning to a hunter gatherer food economy can be very difficult. Attempting to live on rats and roots may not provide enough nutrients and carbohydrates, particularly for children, the elderly and pregnant or nursing mothers. Also, the rats' meat is often contaminated by poisons used to kill them. The final and worst Mautam stage happens when the rats die off, rice crops and stocks are gone, and "famine food" sources like forest tubers are depleted. At that point, foraging is no longer an option, and people no longer have the energy to move in search of food.
July 13, 2008 rates:
1 US dollar = approximately 1,120 kyats (Burma currency, unofficial rate)
1 US dollar = 42.7 rupees (India currency)
1 US dollar = 3.2 ringgits (Malaysia currency)
According to "Critical Point" there had been no confirmed starvation deaths from the Mautam in Chin State as of June 2008, although health problems which may be directly related to it are reported to have caused fatalities in the affected regions. A UN World Food Program (WFP) assessment in early 2008 concluded that there was no famine or starvation at that time, although "Critical Point" noted that the WFP assessment did not take place in the more remote rural villages of the hunger belt. The WFP established a group of Rangoon (Yangon) Burma based aid agencies to monitor the food situation in Chin State during the Mautam. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was to conduct its own assessment, and reportedly donated emergency rice in an area to the north of the hardest hit Mautam region. Overall, the UN agencies appeared to lack a consistent presence in the most Mautam affected areas during the first half of 2008.
Chin organizations and individuals are currently emphasizing the need to bring food relief and seed stock to affected areas before the historical syndrome of mass casualties from a Mautam famine takes place again. In a July 9, 2008 press release, the CHRO's executive director Salai Bawi Lian Mang commented, "The situation is at a critical point. The people of Chin State are on the brink of starvation. Action must be taken now to respond to this crisis."
Farmers from the hunger belt have reportedly sold their possessions and livestock, in order to obtain money to buy rice. Numerous Chin families rely on money remittances from relatives who are working overseas, in order to purchase rice, but the money transmittal process can be very slow, and the overseas workers usually have little income to spare. Some of the rural people have moved to towns in Chin State in hopes of being able to obtain rice there, although according to "Critical Point" it is now exorbitantly expensive at 30,000 kyats for a 50 kilogram bag (which would feed a typical family of five for about a month.) There has been at least one report of armed robbery of rice in Chin State.
Delegations have been sent from Chin villages to MIzoram to offer domestic and wild animals in exchange for rice, or to plead for food donations from churches in Mizoram. Not only is it difficult to buy rice -- Mizoram having been hit by the same Mautam -- but the cost of transporting it back to the affected villages is very high. Hundreds of villagers have reportedly migrated into Mizoram, either anticipating the affects of the Mautam in Chin State or after they directly suffered its effects. If this trend continues, it may provoke tensions in Mizoram, which has been less than tolerant of Chin refugees in the past and now has its own resources badly strained by the Mautam. The Mautam is also likely to increase the outflow of Chin people to other countries such as Malaysia.
As the Mautam began in Chin State, Burma's regime seemed to pay scant attention to it. The Ministry of Agriculture was to conduct an assessment of the situation in early 2008, but if that survey was completed, the results were apparently not made public. According to the CHRO, some church donations of relief rice were confiscated by local regime representatives and then sold at an inflated price. Konumthung News quoted a villager about asking Burma army troops stationed in the area for help: "The soldiers shot some rats that weighed as much as 15 kilograms. The soldiers were amazed at the size of the rats and took pictures for their record."
Chin underground and exile information networks have made efforts to publicize the Mautam situation. In addition to "Critical Point," CHRO has issued press releases and published reports in its Rhododendron magazine/website. India based Burma exile news agencies Konumthung News and Mizzima News, and the Chinland Guardian news website, covered the onset of the Mautam. The Northeast India aspect of the Mautam has been reported on for several years by the BBC and other respected international news outlets, including an in-depth piece in Vanity Fair magazine by Alex Shoumatoff. But it was not until June 2008 that news of the Chin State Mautam finally reached the mainstream world press with a Telegraph UK report, "Plague of Rats Devastates Burma Villages." The Telegraph quoted Benny Manser, a British photographer who managed to visit the Mautam affected area of Chin State (despite extremely restricted access for foreigners): "We saw stick-thin children and old women who hardly had the strength left to dig up roots to eat. Villagers were telling of vast packs of rats, thousands strong, which would turn up overnight out of the bamboo thickets and eat everything in sight."
In June, 2008, a Chin delegation went to London and met with Prime Minister Gordon Brown to request relief aid for the Mautam affected region of Chin State. Cheery Zahau of the Women's League of Chinland, a delegation member, was quoted in The Telegraph: "The reports that are trickling out to India are heartbreaking. They tell of dehydrated children dying of diarrhea and the poorest and weakest being left behind as stronger villagers start to escape over the border to where there is food. We don't really know what is happening deep inside Chin State where there are no telephones or roads. We fear that thousands will die if no help is made available."
As was apparent in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, when the regime of Burma will not facilitate relief aid, grassroots groups must take action as best they can. Such a do-it-yourself equivalent of a civil society occurs without the regime's approval and often with its hindrance, but it can be powerfully effective. In the Chin State, Protestant and Catholic churches have been been vital in gathering information, requesting aid on behalf of rural people, and distributing aid. Mizoram based churches for Chin exiles have raised funds for relief, along with overseas Chin congregations and individuals. A series of concerts by Chin and Mizo singers will take place in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in August/September 2008, as benefits for Chin State Mautam relief.
A Burma-based NGO, the Maraland Social Welfare and Development Committee (MSWDC) has prepared fact-finding reports and alerts, brought food relief to Chin areas, and encouraged ginger planting (the forest rats do not eat ginger or turmeric, and some believe they may be repelled by those aromatic root crops.) Also inside Burma, a Rangoon (Yangon) based Joint Famine Relief Committee was formed to provide "sustainable relief" through livelihood projects for the Chin State, supporting efforts by the MSWDC.
In February 2008, Chin exiles in Mizoram founded the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC.) The group dispatched fact-finding teams to Chin State and organized fundraising through Chin churches in Mizoram, as well as overseas churches. A CFERC informational website, went online in July 2008: http://www.chinrelief.org/
A report by the Free Burma Rangers, an NGO with a chapter operating in northern Arakan and southern Chin State, was released in July 2008. The Arakan FBR team reported witnessing the effects of the Mautam on villagers who were "crying with hunger" in the far north of Arakan and accused Burma regime troops of obstructing and diverting relief aid. Additionally, the WFP was providing emergency food relief in northern Arakan due to other factors, including heavy monsoon rains, as of July 2008.
Ideally, relief aid including emergency rice and seed stocks, with rat-proof containers, would be given directly to the hunger belt of Chin State by Burma's regime (which is wealthy, with a reported US$150 million a month income from its petroleum joint ventures with France's Total, the United States' Chevron, South Korea's Daewoo, China, Thailand and India) or the United Nations and other international donors. However, the Chin people struggle for survival in a much less than ideal world. Most Mautam relief efforts at present appear to be relying on underground networks to fund local food purchases and donations. For more information on how to support such efforts, the CEFRC can be contacted through its website: http://www.chinrelief.org/
It is too much to expect Mizoram State to support a new population of Mautam refugees, when it is dealing with its own food shortages. If people continue to flee Chin State's Mautam to Northeast India, there may have to be special internationally funded food programs for them -- even though such programs could act as a magnet for yet more migrants and it would be far better to help people in their own homeland. Chin hunger migrants and other refugees may need special protection in Northeast India, if local people increasingly resent their presence.
India's national government has close economic ties (involving petroleum) with Burma's regime. Perhaps India can encourage the sending of relief aid directly to Chin State, as an issue involved with India's own security concerns for Northeast India. Or India could return to being an advocate for democratic change in Burma, rather than an economic perpetuator of the present regime. At the very least, India and the border state governments should not hinder cross-border aid and investigation efforts for Chin State by international journalists and relief workers.
The United Nations was less than optimally effective in persuading Burma's regime to allow large scale disaster relief immediately after Cyclone Nargis. The UN could take a more proactive role in trying to prevent another disaster in Chin State from becoming large scale. Expanding the World Food Program's local partnerships to include church social welfare groups throughout the Mautam affected areas of Chin State would be a useful step. As the World Food Program provides emergency aid in Bangladesh due to the bamboo flowering, the WFP should be careful not to assume that the Mautam situation in Burma's Chin State is any better than in the adjacent Chittagong Hill Tracts.
While long-term development aid to improve agricultural livelihoods in Chin regions is obviously a very worthwhile effort, it should be noted that the Mautam is a short-term emergency situation, requiring relief food donations. The goal of making Chin State more food productive in the future should not be prioritized in conflict with the immediate need to keep people whose crops are obliterated by the Mautam rats from dying of hunger.
NGOs currently active inside Burma may possibly be able to initiate efforts in the northwest Burma hunger belt with official Burma regime permission. Other NGOs may find ways to provide relief aid on a cross-border unofficial basis, supporting local groups.
International NGOs which have donated support to Mautam relief efforts include:
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Free Burma Rangers
Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)
Partners Relief and Development
Support for the Oppressed Peoples of Burma
Perhaps most importantly, as has been stated in other Project Maje reports, a complete end to the abuse of ethnic nationality people of Burma must be an unwavering condition of any political process in Burma. Human rights violations, exploitation and degradation of the environment for commercial purposes have made the Chin people particularly vulnerable to the current Mautam and cut off from the relief aid which is reaching those affected by the bamboo/rat cycle in the neighboring countries. As the swarming rats of the Mautam devour the people's food, so do the generals ruling Burma relentlessly steal, extort, plunder and confiscate, leaving nothing. Unless military rule is ended, Burma will continue to be a disaster zone and the present hunger belts will stretch from border to border.
Note to Readers
This resource report is intended for journalists, aid workers and other researchers who may become interested in the bamboo/rat cycle as it affects northwestern Burma. News stories and documents related to that regional situation are reproduced or linked here, and there is also a links list of background information on the bamboo/rat cycle as it affects Mizoram, Manipur and Bangladesh.
Project Maje hopes that the bamboo/rat cycle as it affects Burma will be covered in increasing depth and scope by local and international journalists and other investigators in the coming months of 2008 (the Year of the Rat, in Chinese astrology.)
Project Maje is an independent information project on Burma's human rights and environmental issues, founded in 1986. Project Maje is not responsible for any of the content of any articles or documents reproduced, linked or excerpted in this resource report, and does not endorse them or vouch for their accuracy. These materials and links are intended for informational and educational purposes. Journalists and other researchers needing further information and advice regarding the Mautam and other western Burma issues can contact Project Maje.
Chin State news articles and documents
India news links
Bangladesh news links
Science background links
CHIN STATE NEWS AND DOCUMENTS
1. "Swarms of rats destroy crops in townships in Chin State" Zalat May, Mizzima News, July 28, 2008.
Rodents have been attacking crops in western Burma's Chin state resulting in severe food shortage and leading to a famine like situation in at least five townships, local residents said.
"The rats have destroyed crops in paddy and corn fields in our village. The fields are swarming with rats," Thang Hu, chairman of the Bungtuah Village Peace and Development Council in Hakha Township, told Mizzima.
At least five townships - Hakha, Thantlang, Falam, Paletwa and Matupi - are at the mercy of ever increasing rats, which according to elders is a once in 50 years phenomenon, when bamboos flower. Bamboos flower every 50 years when its life cycle comes to and end.
The flowers are eaten by rats leading to increased fertility where the rodents multiply. The rats then invade fields and grain store houses and eat the crops leading to a famine like situation which is called the Mautam in Mizoram state in Northeast India contiguous to Chin state. Mizoram also faces a similar situation every 50 years but the government takes preventive steps.
"The situation is getting out of hand and we don't know how to cope with this problem. We have to kill them with rat poison but they keep multiplying," another local official of from Tanglo village in Thantlang Township told Mizzima.
The people are faced with a severe shortage of food and are being forced to leave their village in search of food.
The present multiplication of rats started since the end of 2007 and continue harass people in several other townships in the state, according to a Canada based Chin Human Rights Organization, which is closely monitoring the situation in Chin state.
Tera, in-charge of the CHRO in Mizoram bordering Chin state in Burma, said at least 70,000 people including 50,000 people in one township Paletwa -have been affected by the famine caused by rats.
While several people have fled to neighboring Mizoram state in India, a large number of people remaining in Burma are left to the mercy of people who are not yet affected by the famine, Tera said.
"Now people have to even eat wild berries found in the jungle and some wild root vegetables," Tera added.
But following the monsoon rains, these wild root vegetables become bitter and takes a lot of time to cook so now they cannot rely on these, he added.
According to the villagers, people in the unaffected areas have donated over 1,000 rice bags to 60 villages. However, local people face serious financial constraints.
While both villagers and people in the towns are suffering from the famine, local authorities have not responded with any assistance to the people but are strictly monitoring relief supplies that are sent to the people by relatives in foreign countries, Tera said.
"The authorities threatened the people when they came to know they were receiving foreign assistance and ordered them not to accept it," he added.
According to him, about 700 people have fled to the Indo-Burma and to the Bangladesh-Burma border after the famine struck. They are now living in places near Khaki village in lower Teddim, Lengtaleng Township in Mizoram State in India.
"They have built houses in this new village, trying to be self-reliant by working as daily wages earners. There are about 30 to 40 children who cannot attend schools," said Tera, who visited these new villages.
"There are about 79 villages in Thantlang, Matupi and Paletwa Townships which are affected by the famine. People from 11 villages from Paletwa Township arrived in Saiha. They fled their villages after rats destroyed their crops. They hope to get some assistance here. There are a lot of people arriving here," said Toe Par, Secretary of 'Mara People's Party' in Saiha, Mizoram on the Indo-Burma border.
"The flowering of bamboo will last not for one year but for about four to five years. I'd like to urge the Chin people to assist these people", said Thang Yen, General Secretary of the 'Chin National Front', an armed student rebel group fighting for self-determination of Chins.
2. "Rats on the Rampage in Western Burma" Khonumthung News, July 16, 2008.
Rats multiplying after devouring bamboo flowers are attacking hillside farms and destroying crops in Chin state in western Burma.
"Since June this year, rats have been attacking farms in our village. We sow paddy seeds in the day and the rats eat them at night. The rodents have not spared maize either. It is a problem we are facing daily," a farmer in Falam Township, northern Chin state complained.
The most affected villages are Weibula, Mualzawl, Thlawrzawm, Ralum and Kawlfang in Falam Township.
Most of the farmers are frustrated and depressed while dealing with the rats that have destroyed almost all the crops such as paddy and maize in farms on hillsides. The people in the five villages are in a hopeless situation in terms of cultivation this year.
A farmer in Falam Township said "The situation is now out of control though the villagers kill around one hundred rats a night".
The rats destroying crops in this areas follows the famine like situation caused by rats in the other areas of Chin state leaving the people staring at starvation.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, there are no less than 100,000 Chin people who are directly affected by shortage of food in Chin state.
The proliferation of rats is in the farms near dense bamboo forests.
Meanwhile, the villagers have lambasted the Burmese military regime in Chin state saying that the local authorities had not adopted any measures to check multiplication of rats.
The regime turned a blind eye to the grave problem that its people are facing but have instead imposed restrictions on religious organisations and other Non Governmental Organisations which have been assisting with relief materials in the affected areas.
Bamboo flowers bloom once in around 50 years when the life cycle of the bamboo comes to an end. The flowers which the rats eat leads to increased fertility in rats and they begin to multiply and eat crops leading to a famine in Chin state.
Bamboos, which grow naturally along the Indo-Burma border areas, started blooming in 2006.
3. "Chin Face Food Shortages" Violet Cho, The Irrawaddy, July 16, 2008.
Some 70,000 people in Chin State are facing severe food shortages after a plague of rats destroyed their entire rice crop earlier this year, according to sources from the Chin community in India and Thailand.
Sui Khar, the joint-secretary of the Chin National Font (CNF) and an international fundraiser, said that UN agencies must respond to the crisis.
"Our Chin community and UN agencies have been providing relief and assistance, but the number of people affected is so great that it cannot cover all their needs," he said. "We have tried our best to solve the problem, but there is a still a big gap between what we can give and what they require."
Sui Khar also expressed concern over the migration of many Chin people to foreign countries to escape the food crisis.
"More than 1,000 people have crossed the border illegally into India to look for work," he said. "We expect more people will follow in the near future."
In northeastern India, about 1 million people in the state of Mizoram are also facing food shortages after an infestation of rats left them with just one-fifth of their normal rice supply.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said that the infestation of rats spread over the border areas of Bangladesh and Burma earlier this year and is now "increasing fears of widespread food shortages."
The rat population boomed after the flowering of a native species of bamboo, which happens only every 50 years. It will take four or five years for the fields to recover, said Sui Khar.
According to the Chin Famine Relief Committee, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been providing limited food assistance since the infestation while the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) has promised to provide work for people in famine-affected areas in Chin State.
Sui Khar accused the Burmese government of failing to address the growing need for food aid in famine-affected Chin State.
Instead of providing aid, the CNF official said that local authorities were selling rice and food supplies to victims of the plague.
"The military authorities have told local people that they will help them by selling them rice," said Sui Khar. "This is an inhumane act against poor and disadvantaged people."
4. "Critical Point: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma's Chin State" Chin Human Rights Organization, July 2008.
5. "CHRO Releases New Report on Food Insecurity in Burma's Chin State" Press Release, Chin Human Rights Organization, July 9, 2008.
For Immediate Release
CHRO Releases New Report on Food Insecurity in Burma's Chin State
9 July 2008
Ottawa, Canada:The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) released a report today highlighting the increasing shortages of food in western Burma's Chin State. The report, entitled, Critical Point: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma's Chin State, finds that as many as 200 villages may be directly affected by severe food shortages, and no less than 100,000 people or 20 percent of the entire population of Chin State may be in need of immediate food aid. While the immediate cause of food insecurities in Chin State is rooted in the cyclical flowering and dying of bamboo in the area, the continuation of severe human rights violations and repressive economic policies by Burma's military regime has exacerbated the food crisis- bringing it to a critical point.
"This is just another example of the regime's extreme disregard for the people of Burma. The regime has done nothing to provide assistance to communities in immediate need of food aid. Rather, they are obstructing relief supplies and hindering humanitarian efforts in western Burma," said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of CHRO.
As affected communities are reduced to foraging for edible leaves and roots in the forest, the food crisis in Chin State could potentially lead to high rates of starvation, malnutrition, and the rapid deterioration of people's health. Having exhausted food sources in Chin State, more than 600 people have reportedly fled across the border to India's Mizoram State in search of food security.
"The situation is at a critical point. The people of Chin State are on the brink of starvation. Action must be taken now to respond to this crisis," said Salai Bawi Lian Mang.
CHRO makes recommendations for immediate action to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the governments of India and Mizoram, and the international community.
Chin Human Rights Organization
2930 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 200-36, Berkeley, California, US94705
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) is non-governmental, not for profit organization legally registered in Canada with offices in Canada, the United States, Thailand, and India. CHRO works to protect and promote the rights of the Chin people of Burma. For more information, please visit CHRO on the web at www.chro.org.
6. "Severe Food Shortage Looms Over Burma's Chin State" Van Biak Thang, Chinland Guardian, July 9, 2008.
An increasing food shortage is gripping Chin State, Burma amid fears that as many as 200 severely affected villages are facing starvation and in 'a critical point', Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) warned today.
The situation which is due to the cyclical flowering and dying of bamboos leading to the massive influx of crop-destroying rats in the areas has been worsened by the continuation of severe human rights violations and repressive economic policies by Burma's military regime.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of CHRO said: "This is just another example of the regime's extreme disregard for the people of Burma. The regime has done nothing to provide assistance to communities in immediate need of food aid. Rather, they are obstructing relief supplies and hindering humanitarian efforts in western Burma."
"The situation is at a critical point. The people of Chin State are on the brink of starvation. Action must be taken now to respond to this crisis," added Salai Bawi Lian Mang.
Fears are mounting that the ongoing food crisis could immediately lead an estimated 100,000 people or 20 percent of the entire population of Chin State to high rates of starvation, malnutrition and rapid deterioration of people's health. The report also claimed that more than 600 people have fled across the Indian-Burma border to Mizoram State in search of food security.
Last month, a trio of Chin delegation and a British photographer, Benny Manser who slipped across the India-Burma border into the affected areas in Chin State visited the UK, raising the awareness of food crisis and other issues affecting the Chin people such as forced labour, refugees, child soldiers and rape victims. The team also called on the British government and international organisations for immediate actions.
A website, voluntarily designed and created by Benny Manser, focusing on the ongoing food crisis in Chin State will be launched officially soon.
CHRO makes recommendations for immediate action to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the governments of India and Mizoram, and the international community./p>
7. "Plague of rats devastates Burma villages" Nick Meo, The Telegraph UK,
June 21, 2008.
8. "Chin-Mizo singers to raise funds for famine victims in Burma"
Khonumthung News, May 31, 2008.
Well known singers, from Burma and Mizoram state, northeast India will perform a series of music concerts in three Southeast Asian countries - Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to raise funds for famine stricken people in Chin state, northwestern Burma.
The fund raising concerts in ASEAN countries will be kicked off in Thailand on August 27. The concert in Malaysia will follow on August 29 and 30. The last performance will be in Singapore on September 6 and 7.
Ms. Sung Tin Par, a famous singer in Burma will lead a team comprising three singers from Burma. Well known Mizo singers Mami Valte and Mimi Lallianzami will travel with Mizoram "Lelte Weekly" editor Editor Pu C. Dinthanga.
A series of concerts for famine victims in Burma will be organized by a relief group called Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC) based in Mizoram state.
"The purpose is to raise fund for victims of famine, locally known as 'Muatam', from among Chin migrant workers who are working in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore," Pu Chan Thawnga, chairman of CFERC said.
He also said that 10 percent of the fund from the concerts will be allotted to survivors of Cyclone Nargis that killed over 100,000 and left 2.5 million homeless in the delta region of Burma.
Bamboo flowering caused the near famine like situation and the food crisis in areas along the Indo-Burma border since last year. Bamboo flowers attract rats in hordes which multiply and destroy crops and paddy stocks in villages in Chin state. People are facing acute shortage of food.
"We need to send the aid to affected areas as soon as possible because the people urgently need help. Some villagers have nothing. They are at starvation point. They are surviving by eating only 'Zam' (sweet potato) found in the jungle," Pu Chan thawnga told Khonumthung News last week.
Even 'Zam' is difficult to find in the jungle now as almost all villagers residing in the areas mainly depend on it for their daily meal.
The repressive Burmese regime, instead of helping the people who are in need of food, confiscated and banned the flow of aid from religious faith organizations in some areas of Chin state.
CFERC was set up by Chins living in Mizoram with the aim of raising funds and to facilitate the flow of aid received from Chins and other donors around the world for helpless people in Chin state.
9. "Government corruption fuels famine in Chin state"
Mizzima News, April 4, 2008.
The ongoing acute food shortage in Chin state of western Burma is exacerbated through the corruption of local authorities, a Chin human rights group reports.
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) on Thursday said that the famine in Chin state, resulting from a scarcity of food, is worsened by local authorities who hinder and seize humanitarian aid intended for the local people.
CHRO said local authorities in Paletwa Township of Chin state in January seized more than 300 bags of rice donated by a Roman Catholic Church as relief aid for famine victims.
Besides this confiscation, another 150 bags on February of rice donated by the Church of the Province of Myanmar were also seized and sold for profit by the same local authorities.
"A mandatory purchasing order was imposed on residents of Paletwa by the authorities, instructing them to buy the seized rice at an overpriced rate," CHRO said in a statement released on Thursday.
Tera, a representative of CHRO based in India's Mizoram state bordering Burma, said, "The Chairman of the local township peace and development council led the seizure of rice bags and later resold the confiscated rice to local people at an overpriced rate."
While a bag of rice in a normal market costs approximately $16, authorities ordered locals to buy the seized rice at a rate of approximately $18 per bag, Tera added.
Since the beginning of 2008, people in Chin state have reportedly suffered from a dire shortage of food. According to Chin folklore, the famine occurs once every 50 years, when rats are released into the fields and consume all food.
Tera related that there are about 100 villages in Paletwa Township and about 600 villagers from more than 40 villages have fled to the Indian border seeking relief from the famine.
Victor Biak Lian, a member of CHRO's Board of Directors said, "This is very cruel action from the Burmese authority. Even if they refuse to help the local villagers, they should not add to their grievances."
He added that CHRO plans to come up with an alternative way to help people with food aid.
CHRO also called on the international community as well as humanitarian aid groups to come to the assistance of the Chin people, who are currently going hungry due to the confluence of famine and ongoing persecution from authorities.
10. "Bamboo Flowers Bring Chinland with Starvation, Devastation and Suffering to Chinland" Naw Cha Mu, Burma Issues, April 2008.
Food shortage from chin state
Chin Human Rights organization believes that at least 120 Chin villages along the Burma India and Bangladesh border with 50,000 people or roughly ten percent of entire population of Chin State may be directly affected by the ongoing famine.
Chin State is suffering a severe reduction in harvest and food production following the simultaneous mass flowering of bamboo through vast areas of the state. Communities are primarily dependent on traditional agricultural systems and the flowering of bamboo is causing massive shortage of food.
Bamboo is the main Vegetation in much of southern Chin State Mizoram, India. The present area of Chin State covers 13907 square kilometers and roughly one fifth of that area is covered with bamboos. Bamboo flowering occurs in every fiftieth year in all Chinland (Chin State). Mass flowering of bamboo is usually followed by an explosion in the rat population, leading to decimate of basic crops and paddy fields in the area.
Usually rats give birth twice a year but when the bamboo is flowering they can give birth dozen times in a year as the bamboo flowering give them good nutrition to support their reproduction. Rats eat anything they can find and they eat every kind of crop. They attack not only crops, also have been found to eat bamboo matted floors inside houses and have even destroyed home materials. The destruction of crops has resulted in severe food shortages. As a result, this situation affects the people through starvation bringing along with it death, destruction and suffering.
The Chin people always depend on their own crops. Maize and rice are their major food. This year, families that use to reaping 200 to 400 tins of the paddy can only reaping 20 - 40 tins of paddy. Approximately a person eats 12 tins (180 kilogram) of rice per year. There are also many families who totally lost their crops from their fields. Additional environmental condition, such as heavy rain fall, has caused maize to rot.
The Chin's traditionally shares the things they have with those who do not have anything. This is how some people of Chinland now can live sharing food for the day today. Some of the villagers have left their village and migrate into Mizoram, India and Bangladesh because they can no longer survive for their life.
Chin Human rights Organization is calling on the State Peace and Development to allow unhindered humanitarian relief effort in Chin State and to help the basic needs for communities suffering starvation and famine. But the SPDC continues to ignore the situation move to further exacerbating. Moreover, families in Chin state have to pay over 200,000 Kyats a year to the military government in mandatory donations, fines and taxes.
However the situation in Chin State highlights the worsening humanitarian in Burma. In October on 2007, the United Nations Country team Burma and 13 other international non Ð governmental organizations working in the country had in a statement of the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Burma. But rather than cooperation and working together with international agencies to address the crisis, the military regime expelled Mr. Charles Petrie, the head of UN mission in Burma, after accusing him of giving disparaging remarks about the country's humanitarian conditions.
For this reason, quick action is needed to help Chin people to stop from starvation and suffering. All relevant international aid agencies including the world food program should to carry out urgent relief efforts in Chin State. Chin people have no hope from the regime to save them from the starvation and suffering the regime is unwilling to bear responsibility for their own citizen. The international community should pay attention to those people who are dying in Chinland and hand out humanitarian assistance to the Chin people.
11. "Double Jeopardy: When Global Food Shortage Meets Local Crisis" Rhododendron News, Chin Human Rights Organization, March-April 2008.
Food shortage is a global phenomenon affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world and creating potentially explosive situations and instabilities in many parts of the world. But people in western Burma are facing a double jeopardy: skyrocketing food price created by global food shortage and unproductive local harvests caused by a natural cycle of bamboo flowering that has historically brought devastating crisis in the region every half a century.
Bamboo is the primary vegetation in much of southern Chin State and the areas along India-Burma borders. The type of bamboo species found in this region flower only once in every five decades or more. But when bamboos blossomed into flowers they produce large quantities of seeds, attracting rats to the areas. Scientists believe that rich nutrients in bamboo seeds cause rats to multiply quickly. But when the seeds are exhausted rats then turn to standing crops, literally decimating entire rice fields overnight. For the vast majority of people in the area, subsistence farming is their only source of income and survival. For many communities only a tenth of their usual harvests remained after rats have attacked their crops.
Hundreds of families have fled the area after depleting whatever they have left including their livestock such as cows, chickens and pigs. Others are foraging for food in the jungle by digging out wild roots and picking whatever edible vegetables they can find in the forests.
Meanwhile, the military regime has not provided any kind of aid to communities affected by this crisis. Instead, the authorities have seized food aid provided by private donors and church groups and resold them at overpriced rates to the very people to whom the food was being delivered. In some cases, local authorities have warned against any sort of aid delivery to people in southern Chin State citing concerns that such assistance maybe connected to opposition groups in exile.
Ironically, at the very same time when Chin people are struggling for their very next meal and face starvation on a scale unprecedented in recent memory, the military regime was exporting 100, 000 Metric Tons of rice to Sri Lanka.
By contrast, the Indian government has spent tens of millions of dollars into emergency programs and preventive measures intended to manage and combat the latest crisis with unprecedented level of inter-departmental coordination between the federal and state governments of Mizoram and Manipur, both of which lie adjacent to Chin State. In fact, in 2000 it was serious enough to prompt the Indian government to scramble an emergency session of its National Planning Commission to deal with a massive regional food shortage with the expected synchronized flowering of bamboos in Mizoram and Manipur States.
The most immediate concerns remain food for communities that are already starving and the potential outbreak of disease such as malaria and dysentery especially among communities that are on the move as monsoon season is fast approaching and they lack basic medical attention. But the crisis will also have longer term negative impacts that could potentially permanently transform the demography and livelihood for people in the area.
The need for urgent humanitarian aid to people in western Burma cannot be overstated. They are in a double jeopardy: the effects of global food crisis and unresponsive attitude of the military junta on the one hand and local food shortage caused by bamboo flowering on another.
12. "More Communities Flee Famine Affected Area" Rhododendron News, Chin Human Rights Organization, March-April 2008
A mass migratory movement of people is being reported in Tonzang Township of northern Chin State due to devastating famine caused by bamboo flowering, coupled with soaring food price and lack of food aid from the government.
The bamboo started flowering from late 2006 in this area. The event was followed by acute shortage of food and harvest for communities dependent on subsistence farming. They became desperate after selling off all their livestock such as chicken, pigs and cows to buy food.
Few families have received some financial assistance from relatives living abroad. But the majority of people are finding themselves without any form of assistance.
The price of rice has soared from 16,000 Kyats for one bag in 2006 to as much as 19,000 Kyats in 2008. More households who could not afford rice are eating corns and those who could not afford corns are forced to survive on wild roots and leaves from the jungle.
Because of the remoteness, people who have the money are finding themselves unable to afford transportation cost as they need to transport the rice by car or on horseback or by porters through long distance from Tonzang or as far away as Kalay Myo in Sagaing Division.
Amist such difficult time, Tonzang Township PDC Chairman had instructed all village adminstrative officials in the jurisdication to collect 1500 Kyats from each household for government's bio-fuel plantation program.
To date these communities have not received any help from the military government and more communities are being forced to migrate out of the area.
Similarly, communities in Thantlang Township such as Belhar, Tluang Ram (A) and (B), Lul Pi Lung, Hmun Halh, Sia Lam and Vawm Kua are now experiencing severe famine. They had requested food aid from the government by their request was turned down by Township administrative officials. As a result, more and more households are planning to move out of the area.
13. "Starvation Stares Chin People in the Face," Shyamal Sarkar, Khomunthung News, Mar 25, 2008.
Starvation stares Chin State in western Burma in the face, especially those depending on farming in the state. Not only people of Chin state but also Mizoram, in Northeast India face a similar situation.
Famine victims in Chin state are being supported financially by Chins staying abroad. But this help cannot cover all families suffering from famine conditions in Chin state. In Mizoram, the Chin political party, NGOs, churches and individuals formed the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC) on February 2008 even though some participants do not have any Mizoram security document.
Chairman of the CFERC, Mr. H. Chan Thawng Liang said that the CFERC is sending fact finding groups inside Chin state to take video clips and document the situation. The report will be received within 20 days and the committee has to make a decision on how to go ahead for the next step. Now the committee is collecting funds from various churches in Mizoram as well as abroad. The committee received Rs. 13,000 rupees from Norway Chin community. The committee collected Rs. 1000 from churches and Rs. 300 from individuals who want to donate to the committee for famine victims. The committee believes that 200 households from Chin state's remote areas shifted to Mizoram state.
But the relief process has not been chalked out by the committee for the Chin people, and the committee is yet to declare the detailed process to the people because of financial constraints. The committee seems to be starting to get the funds for relief.
Mizoram State, is witnessing bamboo flowering (locally known as Mautam) when rats multiply and destroy crops bringing on famine conditions, so social workers and civilians are busy helping the victims.
The government received its annual share of rice accounting for 5000 quintals and an additional 1,10, 000 quintals for Mautam said the president of the Mizo National Front (MNF) and Chief Minister of Mizoram Mr. Zoramthanga.
The government also has a Bamboo Flowering and Famine Combat Scheme (BAFFACOS) program since 2004 and sanctioned funds for Rs. 12.500 lakhs for famine relief in Mizoram state said Mizoram Chief Minister during the Mizoram budget session this month.
The victims of famine have been provided rice in the rural areas by the government. While Mizoram people suffer from famine like conditions they seem to be more worried this time compared to the last time.
Besides, all government servants gave a day's salary for those who are facing famine in different parts of the state. Social and religious organizations also donated lots of money for bamboo flowering affected people in Mizoram.
A report added that one youth group of Fraser Valley Cleaner in Canada had declared to provide vegetable soup mixed/ dehydrated vegetable accounting for 2.25 million packets following bamboo flowering in Mizoram.
Mizoram had faced such a famine situation in 1958-59, as this happens once in 50 years. At such times people in the state search for edibles in the jungle and suffered stomach and poisonous infection. Mautam claimed lives too.
While the Mizoram government provides relief for the people, the people of Chin state are not so lucky and people from remote areas are moving and shifting to Mizoram for succour.
The Chin people have been given donated 20 bags of rice by the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) no 304. One bag if rice costs 18000 kyat now compared to 15000 kyat per-bag in Chin state towns. The Burma Army collects money as tax as well use people for forced labour at a time when they suffer from hunger.
The villagers are suffering from various persecutions by the local authority forcing them to flee to Mizoram. There are hundreds of refugees in Bangladesh also from Paletwa Township, Chin state.
As reported in Mizoram Newspaper there are many illegal Chin people who have shifted from ThanTlang, Falam, Teddim and Tonzang of Chin state, Myanmar. In February 2008, four households of Matupi Township , Southern Chin state shifted to Mizoram and are staying in Kawl Caw village, Lawngtlai district in Mizoram. Lack of a relief system in Chin state especially in the border areas are forcing people to come to Mizoram.
The famine is prevalent in bamboo growing areas especially in Paletwa, Matupi, Thantlang, Falam and Tonzang township Chin state. This year half the population of almost five lakhs is affected by famine.
In 2005 the official record mentioned Chin state population being 53 lakhs, but Chin people are fleeing abroad because during military rule the Chin population decreased to 47 lakhs in 2007.
"We have to leave our country as there is no food," said Mr. Para from Paletwa Township who recently shifted for Mizoram due to bamboo flowering in Chin state, Burma.
Although there are lots of organizations in Mizoram for helping the famine affected people, there are no organizations to help Chin people.
(Shyamal Sarkar based in Calcutta, India is a copy editor of Khonumthung News and Burma News International (BNI), Burma media umbrella group in exile)
14. "Critical Point: Humanitarian Disaster in the Making in Western Burma" Press Release, Chin Human Rights Organization, March 18, 2008.
For Immediate Release
18 March 2008
Critical Point: Humanitarian Disaster in the Making in Western Burma
Ottawa, Canada: Chin Human Rights Organization is calling for urgent and concerted international relief efforts to address growing humanitarian crisis in Chinland that has brought much devastation to hundreds of villages along Burma's western border.
A severe reduction in harvest and food productions following simultaneous mass flowering of bamboos through vast areas of the state is causing massive shortage of food for communities primarily dependent on traditional agricultural system.
Bamboo is the main vegetation in much of southern Chin State and the areas along the border with India's Mizoram. Mass flowering of bamboos is usually followed by an explosion of rat populations, leading to the decimation of basic crops and paddy fields in the area. At least three devastating famines associated with bamboo flowering, which happens about every 50 years, have been recorded in this area since the 1860s.
Chin Human Rights Organization believes that at least 120 Chin villages along the borders with India and Bangladesh, totaling no less than 50,000 people or roughly ten per cent of the entire population of Chin State, may be directly affected by the famine. According to latest information, at least 150 families from southern Chin State have fled to Mizoram and Bangldesh.
A further mass migratory movement of people is likely as more communities are finding themselves rapidly running out of food supplies.
"We are at a critical point because it really is a humanitarian disaster in the making. Without timely and effective response, the consequence could be disastrous. It is a matter of great urgency that the international community pay immediate attention to this situation," says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization, who recently returned from a visit to India-Burma border.
"Unfortunately, this tragic natural cycle is made worse by the military regime's repressive policies against the Chin people where the Burmese soldiers are just living off the local populations through forced labor, extortion and enslavement." he says.
In comparison, the Indian government has spent tens of millions of dollars in an effort to forestall and manage a massive famine that was predicted in the adjacent northeastern states of Mizoram and Manipur where bamboo grows heavily.
The present area of Chin State covers 13,907 square kilometers and roughly one fifth of that area is vegetated with bamboos.
Exacerbating this natural calamity is a man-made catastrophe caused by the policies of systematic neglect and outright repression by the military junta.
A typical urban-dwelling family in Chin State pays over 200,000 Kyats a year to the military government in mandatory "donations," fines and taxes, while a rural household is forced to pay at least 100,000 Kyats per year. Under this circumstance, Chin people have been for years forced to live in abject poverty.
It is important to note that in October of 2007, the United Nations Country Team in Burma and 13 international non-governmental organizations working in the country had already cautioned the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Burma. But rather than cooperating and working together with international agencies to address the crisis, the military regime expelled Mr. Charles Petrie, the head of UN mission in Burma after accusing him of giving disparaging remarks about the country's humanitarian conditions. Given this kind of negative attitude and complete indifference by the military regime, a disaster was just waiting to happen.
Given the magnitude and urgency of this latest crisis, Chin Human Rights Organization is calling on all relevant international aid agencies including the World Food Program to carry out urgent relief efforts in Chin State by any means possible, including through existing aid mechanisms inside Burma and cross-border aid program from neighboring India and Bangladesh.
Chin Human Rights Organization
2-Montavista Avenue, Nepean, ON K2J 2L3, Canada
15. "A Terrible Famine Swipes the Bamboo Landers: Report and Appeal of the Bamboo Famine in Chin State, Burma" Mara Social Welfare and Development Committee, March 17, 2008
The people who are dwelling in the region of Paletwa Township, Matupi Township, and Thatlang Township, Chin State, Myanmar, have been badly struck by a terrible famine since last year, 2007. The region is bordered by India to the northwest and Bangladesh to southwest. The people are known as the Mara, Khumi, and Lemro tribes. They are different ethnic tribes living together in the region for ages. The region is occupied by serrated mountains and separated by deep valleys. Most of the villages are built on
the summits of mountains. Very narrow lanes and paths connect the villages and one can travel only on bare foot for days carrying everything needed on back loads. Because of the mountainous and rugged nature of the region during the rainy season even animals find difficult to move from one place to another. The outsiders may wonder why the forefathers of these tribes must have chosen this region for their homeland.
The forefathers were moving from one place to another before settling down in the present region. One of the reasons for choosing the present abode might be its bamboo jungle. For ages, bamboo jungle has been known as a fertile and productive land. Among the Chin people rice is considered a superior food and it is highly valued till today. To the people bamboo jungle means "rice bowl".
From time immemorial, slash and burn shifting hill-side cultivation is the only means for their survival. Lives mainly depend upon the monsoon and upon the bamboo jungle. In the past the dwellers in the region, in fact, have had little interest in moving to other regions - "after all, if you live in the jungle of bamboo why go elsewhere?" Bamboo indeed is almost everything to the people. Most of the houses are built with bamboo leaves roofing, matted floors and often double layered split bamboo walling. Bamboo shoot is their favorite side dish. Basket and some containers are made with bamboo. Bamboo jungle is their rice bowl. It is rightly noted that bamboo is not just a poor mans timber, but it is a life blood of the people dwelling in this particular region. For them the dying of bamboo indicates the end of life in this
Bamboo jungle covers more than half area of the region. The flowering and withering of the bamboo has been known to recur periodically at an interval of fifty years. Elders of the tribes have recorded them as having taken place in the years 1862, 1911, 1952. The people have for ages dreaded withering of bamboo because it had led to terrible famine in the past. Sad is the time, the dreadful disaster repeats again among the people as the flowering of bamboo has begun in last year, 2007. It is invariably followed by an unprecedented increase in the rat population throughout the region, and which, in turn, wreaks havoc on the standing crops leading ultimately to terrible famine throughout the region. It is reported that last year in October, 2007 at the village called Sulotla, Paletwa Township, the rat ate and destroyed all the crops overnight and the rice fields were left empty. In the next morning all the villagers had to leave from their village and crossed to the India border in search of food. A huge number of rats still destroying every crops stored in the farm houses.
According to MSWDC assessment and scientific data collected so far, within the Maraland 47490 people of 8856 families are now badly affected by the famine. This number includes 1151 pregnant women, 11983 children below the age of five, 156 handicapped, and 4045 women feeding babies. The number will soon be added from the people of Khumi and Lemro.
Scarcity of food and clean drinking water directly resulted in many families to be in starvation, and caused increase of diarrhea, malaria and other diseases among children and young people. Hundreds of people have left from their respective villages and slipped into the India border. Another hundreds of young men and women are moving to the nearby towns and cities without having proper skills for work.
Some part of Mizoram State India also has affected by famine. The Indian centre government, Mizoram state government, and other NGOs have a long well planned to combat the disaster. Hundreds of crores of money and thousands of tones of rice have been released to the people of the effected region although the State estimates that an additional 5,740 tonnes of rice will be needed over the next two months to feed the people according to the ActionAid.
Sadly, more people in Chin state have to go bed hungry. They hardly have a simple rice to feed their starved children. It is only the beginning of the tragic story of the people who are suffering silently. Sad is the time that the suffering ones, their cry, and their groan are hitherto unseen and unheard of.
Those unfortunate and starved people need someone who could speak out on their behalves because they are voiceless ones. They need simple rice just for their survival because they are hungry and they have no brighter future. Women and children need somebody who cares for them because they are ill-fed.
To help better with this crisis, the biggest NGOs in the famine affected region have formed a Joint Relief Committee. The committee is comprised of Mara Thyutlia Py (MTP), Mara Students' Association (MSA), the Mara Evangelical Church Department of Service and Development (MEC-SD) under the initiative taken by the Mara Social Welfare and Development Committee.
APPEAL TO CHIN COMMUNITY AROUND THE WORLD: To effectively respond this dreadful disaster in Chinland, we would like to request you to contribute whatever amount in cash or in kind convenient toward the Joint Relief Committee Relief Fund. To various Chin organizations and Churches, we request your support and cooperation in dealing with this national crisis.
APPEAL TO INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, CHURCHES, AND FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD: We request your deeper acknowledgement of the situation and the urgent need of emergency assistance. We ask your generous contributions and a helping hand to those helpless and hunger people that are badly hit by a dreadful natural calamity.
We urge every concerned individuals and parties across the world to help the victims of drought in Chin State. MSWDC is committed to assist and cooperate with any organization that is delivering any assistance and help to the victims affected by the famine.
Mara Social Welfare and Development Committee
16. "Famine Diary" Salai Chinzah, March 2008.
17. "Voice of Famine" Salai Chinzah, March 2008
18. "Heavy Tax Burden Adds to Chin Food Crisis," Nan Kham Kaew, Democratic Voice of Burma, February 27, 2008.
The Chin National Front has criticised the excessive taxes levied by the Burmese government on ethnic Chin people who are already facing severe food shortages.
The mass flowering of bamboo in Chin state which occurs every 50 years has brought devastation this year, causing an infestation of rodents and diminishing food stores.
The CNF warned in a statement that a quarter of the population of Chin state is facing starvation, and called for famine relief in the area.
"The government completely ignores the rights of the Chin people and allows soldiers in the state to harass the local population," the statement said.
"And on top of that, Chinland is suffering from this disaster in 2008 which has left a quarter of the population starving," it went on.
"But instead of providing humanitarian aid to these people in distress, the SPDC has been collecting taxes from them."
According to the CNF's itemized list, people who live in towns must pay a range of taxes to the municipal authorities, central government, township and central Union Solidarity and Development Association, township Electric Power Corporation, township police, forestry department and veterinary department.
Those living in villages have to pay taxes to the municipal authorities and the military.
These include a fee to avoid military porter duties of 3000 kyat per person in the towns or 5000 kyat per person in the villages, 5000 kyat for one day's absence from military training and 2500 per person to avoid forced labour on road construction and other projects.
There is also a 1000 kyat hunting tax for each animal killed, a charge of 200 kyat per day to sell vegetables and an annual tax to the central USDA of 3000 kyat per person.
Villagers are also charged 6000 kyat for each bucket of rice in the household, and 4500 kyat for every three chickens they keep.
In total, the CNF estimates that the average town-dwelling Chin family has to pay 800,000 kyat a year in taxes, while village families pay around 40,000 kyat.
"Not only the eight government departments named, but also other departments are getting everything they can from the Chin people," the CNF statement said.
"Due to the pressures caused by starvation and the heavy taxes imposed by the SPDC this year, 2008 is now considered a disastrous year in the Chin people's history."
Chin people also have to pay tax to the CNF itself, though the group has now cut its demands in response to the crisis.
"Following a decision taken during the 5th central committee meeting, the CNF has decided to reduce the annual tax collected from the Chin people from 3000 kyat to 10 kyat," the statement said.
"Other taxes on consumer goods have also been reduced from five percent to three percent."
CNF central working committee member and chief of staff colonel Pu Ral Hnin said that the food shortages had led more than 200 families to flee to Mizoram state in India, where the Indian government has provided them with some assistance.
"The Indian government and the Indian people have done a lot for the Chin people," Pu Ral Hnin said.
"They have had no help from the Burmese government; instead of helping, they are just collecting more taxes."
19. "Cross-Border Aid Needed to Address Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Chinland" Chin Human Rights Organization, Rhododendron News, January-February 2008.
March 7, 2008
Rising cost of living and arbitrary* and repressive policies of the ruling military junta are driving Chin people into deeper and deeper humanitarian crisis, causing serious alarm of hunger and famine for communities across Burma 's western frontier.
Latest information from inside Chin State indicates that more and more communities are finding themselves adversely affected by rising cost of living, arbitrary and excessive tax, forced labor programs and other repressive policies of the State Peace and Development Council. In many parts of Chin State, hunger and famine are becoming a reality for the first time since the army takeover 19 years ago as previously self-sufficient communities are no longer able to make ends meet.
Ordinary Chin families such as farmers who account for the majority and make up the backbone of local economy are worst affected by the crisis due to various restrictions and bans, as well as excessive taxes imposed on them by military authorities. In parts of Falam township of northern Chin State farmers are completely banned from clearing new forests for the 2008 cultivation season while imposition of restrictive rules and arbitrary taxes are preventing other communities such as those in the southern township of Matupi from continuing to make their sole and traditional means of livelihood.
Additionally, many rural communities are bracing for, or are already dealing with, the rapid boom of crop-eating rodent population with the flowering of bamboos, which has historically driven local communities into disastrous famine every half a century or so.
Urban residents such as those living in major towns are facing similar economic crisis. Rising commodity prices and living costs, compounded by various forms of arbitrary and often excessive taxes are taking a toll on Chin families. Apart from excessively large sums exacted for property and municipal taxes, families are required to pay as much as 30, 000 Kyats per household per year in order to be exempt from government-sponsore d forced labor programs such as portering and construction related to development and military purposes. This does not include other 'donations' that each family must pay on a regular basis such as for the cost of militia and vigilante training conducted by the army in towns and villages across the state. In total, each family ends up paying as much as 300,000 to 400,000 Kyats to the military government.
Despite increasing evidence of humanitarian crises nationwide and the crippling economy, Burma 's military regime still refuses to acknowledge the extent of the country's problems. The expulsion late last year of Charles Petrie, the head of the United Nations Office in Burma who had voiced concerns over the unfolding crises and the various restrictions on, and official interference with the activities of international humanitarian agencies working in the country, are cases in point.
Unfortunately for the Chins, their isolated region lies beyond the reach of very few international aid agencies that are currently allowed to work in Burma. Chin State is designated as a grey zone where insurgency is active, and thus remains restricted. With virtually no help flowing from international agencies from inside Burma , Chin people can expect little help from the outside world to help cope with what is a dire humanitarian situation.
Most obviously, recent announcements by the military junta to hold a constitutional referendum and new elections are not going to have any positive impacts on the humanitarian situations, nor are they likely to reverse the worsening trend of human miseries and rights abuses in Chin State.
In such a situation, it is urgent and imperative that the international community and aid organizations find an alternative way to deliver the much needed humanitarian help to the Chin people, including by cross-border aid delivery from neighboring India in order to avert what clearly will be a disastrous consequence.
20. "Gigantic Rodents Attack Paddy Farm and Stocks," Konumthung News, October 27, 2007.
Giant rodents have been destroying paddy farms and stocks of paddy in the poverty ridden Chin state, Burma leaving the residents worried because it's a sign of famine being round the corner. Bamboo flowers bloom once in 50 years. Bamboo flowers before it dies.
Gigantic rodents attack paddy farm and stocks
Bamboo flowers and fruits have begun to bloom heralding famine in the areas like Thlungmang, Sabawngte, Sabawngpi, Darling, Lungcawi, Mala, Capaw, Lailenpi, Pintia village in Matupi township and para village in Paletwa township in southern Chin state. Rats multiply when they gorge on bamboo flowers and destroy the paddy cultivated on the hillside farms and paddy stocks stored near the villages.
"They (the gigantic rats) mostly emerge and devour the paddy at night. The people therefore cannot not sleep peacefully and have to guard the farms and stocks at night", a local in Chin state said.
The villagers tried everything and drove out 200 rodents which were after the paddy.
Villagers in panic rushed to Burma battalions in the area when all their attempts at preventing the oversized rats from eating the paddy failed.
"The soldiers shot some rats that weighed as much as 15 kilograms. The soldiers were amazed at the size of the rats and took pictures for their record", said a local.
The crackdown on the big rats which have been relentlessly attacking farms has been in vain some village heads crossed the Indo-Burma border to Mizoram to seek way to stop rats. Mizos have the experience of tackling rats because they have faced the situation earlier.
"The rats have damaged several farms and stocks in our village, and the people are worried about food in the coming year," a villager in Para said.
The farmers in Chin state started harvesting paddy cultivated in farms.
The village heads and locals held emergency meetings and urged the local authorities to take effective action against the threat. So far, there is no report of the local authorities paying heed.
A delegation of villages from Chin state also discussed the matter with rice godown owners in Tuipang in Mizoram state.
21. "Junta Ignores Threat of Famine as People Live in Fear in Chin State," Khonumthung News, May 19th, 2007.
People in Chin state are living in perpetual fear of an impending famine with the flowering of bamboo. The military regime has taken no steps either to create awareness or prevent famine.
Flowering of bamboo leads to rats multiplying rapidly and the rodents eat crops in rural areas like Tonzang, Tedim, Falam, Thantlang, Matupi and Paletwa township in Chin state causing famine.
Rats are now everywhere in the region and have started eating paddy plants and other crops in farms. Even paddy kept in storehouses is not safe. But the military authorities have done nothing to kill the rats and prevent a famine.
"The rats not only eat rice but also bite children at night and the numbers are going up by the day," said a local in Chin state.
"The more they (rats) eat bamboo flowers, the more they multiply. As a result, it can lead to famine because the rats are eating all the crops and paddy in farm," a local added.
The authorities have reportedly acknowledged the problem the villagers face but are yet to provide help to eliminate the threat from rats. The locals therefore are using their own technique by beating the rats to death for self preservation.
Bamboos are said to bloom, flower and bear fruits once in 50 years. It is called the end of the life cycle of bamboo.
The same thing happens in Mizoram state in India which shares a border with Chin state of Myanmar. But the Mizoram government has taken preventive measures to stop multiplication of rats. It is also into a public awareness campaign regarding possible famine.
In Chin state, there are no preparations or preventive measures adopted by the military regime. As a result, famine is likely the following year. In a bid to avoid the famine caused by rats, most Chin people are beginning the shift to Mizoram state
"One Day You Must Vomit Up That Rice: Relief Team Brings Food to Famine Victims as the Burma Army Tries to Stop Assistance in Western Burma" Free Burma Rangers, July 2008.
In the area where our team works thousands of people need emergency food supplies. They are crying with hunger. Their rice crops have been destroyed by rats. In this area approximately 50% of farmers got 10% of their expected rice harvest, 30% of farmers got 5% and another 20% of farmers did not get anything. The military regime is obstructing relief to the famine-affected areas. Christian associations have given rice but the Burma Army camp officers have not allowed those donations through to villagers in many areas. The military government has not helped the farmers whose fields were eaten by rats. Moreover, the regime's soldiers have used the rice at the Army Camps. Our Free Burma Ranger team has gone directly into villages and distributed rice to famine-affected villagers. The news of these distributions has reached the Burma Army camps. Army officers reportedly got angry and then warned and intimidated villagers, saying things like, "one day you must vomit up that rice."
1. "UPA govt would not allow Mizos to starve: Sonia" Indo-Asian News Service, Jun, 15, 2008.
2. "Mizo Diaspora on Mautam Mission" The Telegraph India, June 13, 2008.
3. "India Quakes in the Year of the Rats" Sudha Ramachandran, Asia Times, April 9, 2008.
4. "Indian State Faces Famine after Plague of Rats" Biswajyoti Das, Reuters, March 17, 2008.
5. "Waiting for the Plague" Alex Shoumatoff, Vanity Fair, December 2007.
6. "Indian Farmers Braced for Rat Plague" Peter Foster, The Telegraph UK, June 5, 2007.
7. "Indian State Gets Ready for an Onslaught of Rats" Jason Overdorf,
Toronto Globe & Mail, March 30, 2007.
8. "Bracing for a Famine Caused by Rats" Subir Bhaumik, BBC News,
April 24, 2007.
9. "Of Blooming Bamboo, Rats and Famine Fears in Mizoram" Indo-Asian News Service, December 4, 2006.
10. "Rare Indian Bamboo Bloom Brings Rats, Threatens Crops" Biswajyoti Das, Reuters News Service, November 16, 2006.
11. "Bamboo Boosting India Rat Population" Wasbir Hussain, Associated Press, November 16, 2006.
12. "Why Villagers Fear Rare Burst of Pink Blossoms"Jeremy Page, The Times of India, September 9, 2006.
13. "Indian Army's New Enemy is Rats" Subir Bhaumik, BBC News, June 3, 2006.
14. "Trouble Blooms" Aarti Dhar, The Hindu Magazine, March 27, 2005.
15. "Bamboo Puts India on Famine Alert" BBC News, October 11, 2004.
16. "India Girds for Famine Linked With Flowering of Bamboo" Pallava Bagla,
National Geographic News, June 22, 2001.
Hazarika, Sanjoy. "Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace From India's Northeast" New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1994.
1. "Food Aid to Bangladesh After Rat Plague" Julhas Alam, Associated Press, July 13, 2008.
2. "Rat Infestation Hits Bangladesh" Mark Dummett, BBC News, 22 March 2008.
3. "Hill People Fear Food Crisis as Bamboo Clusters Flowering" Jashim Majumder, The Daily Star, March 17, 2008.
4. "Rat Invasion Fuels Famine Fears in Remote Bangladesh" AFP, Feb 9, 2008.
1. "Gregarious Flowering" Human Flower Project
2. "Melocanna/baccifera" International Network for Bamboo and Rattan
3. "The Phenomenon" and "Flowering Records" National Mission on Bamboo Applications, India
4. "Of Rice and Rats" Rice Today, Grant Singleton, July-September 2007.
For research assistance, Project Maje thanks Victor, Amy, Bawi Lian, Salai Elaisa, Sam, David, Chris, Ben and Dave, and for the website, Bruce.
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