Myanmar rat infestation causing food crisis: NGO

Posted at 01/12/2009 6:11 PM

YANGON - Tens of thousands of people in remote northwestern Myanmar faced a food crisis after their farmlands were destroyed by a rat infestation, a non-governmental organization said Monday.

The infestation erupted two years ago in Chin state, which borders Bangladesh and India, and some residents were now receiving rice handouts, said Joseph Win Hlaing Oo, director of the Country Agency for Rural Development.

"We estimate that some 70,000 people in Chin State have been suffering from a food crisis since two years ago because of rat infestation and drought," he told AFP.

"We started rice distribution to local people in the first week of this month under a food-for-work program," he said.

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

"Farmers are reported to be struggling to meet day-to-day food needs, resorting to edibles gathered from the forests," the report said, adding that many people were migrating to border areas in India.

Problems with communication, transportation and funding were limiting access to other areas in Chin state which may also be affected, Joseph Win Hlaing Oo added.

He said that during a trip to Chin state he had seen about 15 rats each measuring about 1.5 feet long (45 centimeters) that had been killed by villagers with guns.

"They were so big and unusual," he said.

Military-ruled Myanmar suffers from severe levels of malnutrition. The WFP has said that more than one third of the country's children are malnourished.