Chin State Faces Looming Food Shortage after Flood Crisis

By Yen Saning 26 October 2015

RANGOON — Three months after the nationwide flood disaster, civil society groups say that government has vastly underestimated the damage toll in Chin State, where locals are facing a looming food shortage.

While emergency relief has found its way into many affected Chin State communities, local aid workers say that damage to food storage infrastructure and disruption to slash-and-burn rice cultivation is likely to pose a significant threat to food security in the next 6-12 months.

“Locals usually cut down trees and burn them for hillside cultivation, but now, due to the extraordinary rain, they haven’t been able to burn trees,” said Van Biak Thang Cenhrang, the news editor of the Chinland Guardian and a volunteer with the Chin Committee for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation (CCERR), a coalition of 60 civil society organizations, political parties and religious groups.

“If they can’t farm this year, they have no food next year. Another concern is transportation. If roads are not good, food can’t come in,” he added.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has raised around half of the US$67.5 million is estimates will be needed to provide assistance to flood-affected communities across Burma through to December. CCERR members told a Rangoon press conference on Friday that other emergency relief for Chin State, including rice and financial remittances, were being donated by the overseas Chin community.

Across the state, damage to farmland, roads and bridges, irrigation networks and ports has been extensive.

The northeastern road connecting Hakha to Falam and Sagaing Division town has been repaired to allow small jeeps access into the state capital, while the southeastern road to Monywa is once again obstructed after another round of landslides. Van Biak Thang Cenhrang said that the CCERR’s local relief committees had only been able to reach 600-700 of the sparsely populated region’s 1500 villages as a result of damage to roads connecting village tracts to larger towns.

“Although emergency aid has arrived in Hakha, it is not reaching villages. The villages nearby towns get aid, while others have to walk to towns to carry aid back,” he said.

The CCERR estimates around 50,000 locals—10 percent of the state’s population—have been affected by the disaster, while 13,000 acres of farmland has been destroyed or damaged across the state’s nine townships.

Flora Bawi Nei Mawi, a program officer with Chin Human Rights Organization, told The Irrawaddy that government damage estimates were significantly lower than the figures tallied by the CCERR, which showed an additional 15,000 people belonging to flood-affected households and an additional 4,000 acres of affected farmland.

She highlighted concerns that the government’s long-term aid program would exclude those left out of the official statistics and outside of government’s efforts to rebuild Hakha.

“The government said they will provide 40 lakh ($3,115) for each house to be rebuilt, and a government contractor will rebuild the homes,” she said of the relief work underway in Hakha. “I asked MOECAF [the Ministry of Environmental Conversation and Forestry] whether they had plans to rebuild houses in other towns, and they replied that they didn’t.”

Dr. Shwe Khar, a joint secretary of the Chin National Front, told reporters on Friday that the disaster had influenced the ethnic armed group’s decision to sign the government’s “nationwide” ceasefire agreement on Oct. 15, saying that participating in the accord was necessary to ensure that relief and recovery projects were smoothly administered.

“It is necessary to look at deep roots of the problems, where accurate information is necessary for transparent and effective rehabilitation projects,” he said, adding that the success of future relief work depended on a proper collaboration between the government and local civil society networks.