Famine in Chin State, Burma

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Up to 100,000 people in the south of Chin State, the poorest state in Burma, face starvation in renewed food shortages.

Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) has found evidence of renewed famine in Chin State following the Mawta famine which began in 2007. Chronic food shortages in parts of southern Chin State are particularly severe this year after a bad harvest. The populations of Kanpetlet, Matupi, Mindat and Paletwa townships are at risk of forced migration when food stores run out.

The Mawta Famine

The word 'Mawta' is a dialectical word of the Chin people to describe the flowering of bamboo; a natural occurrence that takes place every fifty years. Bamboo covers a fifth of the area in Chin State and its flower provides abundant food for rats. As their population explodes exponentially, an entire village’s food supply can be decimated overnight. The phenomenon occurred 3 times since 1862, each with disastrous effect on the local cultivation.

The impact of Mawta continues long after the bamboo flowers. The plants die after flowering, and the roots which hold the soil together begin a slow process of decay. This leads to excess soil leaching on the upland paddy; the only fields available in the mountainous Chin State. Continuous cultivation on the already weakened soil has proven disastrous to the land. The situation this year has been further worsened by adverse weather conditions. Seeds were scattered from the field by strong wind and what was left was further damaged by an extended rainy season which lasted until the end of September. The harvest this year has therefore been extremely poor.

Current food crisis

In April 2011, a report from the United Nations OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) highlighted an increase in the cost of basic commodities, and seasonal water shortages. Chin Human Right Organisation (CHRO) has monitored the continuing effects of the Mawta famine. They report six villages in Palwtwa township are completely empty as of 2010. CHRO have also documented that Chin refugees to Dehli have doubled in the last year.

Accurate information on the current situation in remote parts of Chin State is difficult to obtain. HART collected t estimonial evidence from 9 village representatives in the affected areas, who stated that their villages harvested food supplies that are expected to last 3 months, running out between December 2011 and January 2012. The crisis faced by these villages is likely to be replicated across Chin State. The situation is particularly bleak for those villages which have no roads connecting them to the outside world.

Starvation and famine-forced migration were avoided in 2007 due to an emergency local relief effort that was supported by DfID, UNDP and various NGOs including HART. The international community should respond once again to help prevent further famine.