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Rats Causing Famine in Myanmar

Contact: Taun Cortado, Gospel for Asia, 972-300-3120


CHIN, Myanmar, Jan. 3 /Christian Newswire/ -- Bamboo is normally a steady source of food for people in Southeast Asia. But part of the bamboo plant's natural growing cycle has caused parts of the region to be overrun with rats, which has caused a famine in the small country of Myanmar (Burma). At least 40 children have died, and more than 100,000 are living on the brink of starvation because of this crisis.

Photo: These men are trying to protect their field by beating the rats with sticks.

The events that led to the famine began in September 2007, when the bamboo plants began blooming and producing fruit, an event that happens only once every 50 years. The rats eat the fruit, which increases their fertility and greatly multiplies their birthrate. Once the rats have finished eating the bamboo plants, they plow their way through other fields, devouring grain, corn and rice. The rats even dig up and eat the seeds farmers have planted in the ground.

The twice-a-century event is called a "mautam." "Mau" is the Burmese word for bamboo and "tam" means famine.

Gospel for Asia missionary Kyetipat Maung reports that people have resorted to eating the only thing there is an abundance of--the rats themselves.

"My family normally eats rice, but the rats have destroyed everything we had, and the only things left are the rats and wild potatoes for our family," said Gway Win, a man who lives in the same village as Kyetipat. "We catch more than 50 rats every day, and we eat the rat meat for survival."

The rat infestation is most severe in Myanmar's Chin state, at its western border with India. Kyetipat reports that 79 villages are directly affected by the famine. In the five worst-hit districts, no food has been harvested for a full year. The crisis has resulted in a myriad of related health problems, including malaria, typhoid, diarrhea and skin problems.

Schools in the area are even closed as a result.

"The students are out searching for vegetables and fruits in the jungle," a local teacher explained.

Many people have left their villages and gone to neighboring India, where the crisis has not had such a tragic effect. Although the bamboo bloom occurs in India, the government has programs in place to protect the crops and stop the proliferation of rats. There are only scattered reports of major rat infestations in India, mostly in the state of Manipur at the India-Myanmar border.

Adding to the problem in Myanmar is the ruling junta's refusal to distribute aid to the affected people. There are reports that officials intercept food donations and resell them at more than twice their pre-famine value.

GFA missionaries, like Kyetipat, are doing all they can to help, from distributing food to killing rats. They are able to help because they already live and work in the affected areas, whereas the government bans aid workers from outside organizations.

This mautam is much worse than the previous event. The last time the bamboo bloomed, in the late 1950s, it only lasted a few months. This time, the plants have bloomed in stages over a 15-month period, which has extended the misery.

Kyetipat and the other missionaries in this area ask for the publics fervent prayer for the people in Chin, Myanmar.

Gospel for Asia