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Rice shortage hits Kachin state

Military clashes cause supplies to dry up

Children in a Kachin refugee camp Children in a Kachin refugee camp
  • Daniel Wynn, Myitkyina
  • Myanmar
  • October 9, 2012
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People in the northernmost part of Myanmar say they have been experiencing an acute food crisis for more than two months.

A chronic shortage of rice in Putao township, Kachin state, has been caused by poor crops due to bad weather and ongoing armed clashes between government troops and ethnic rebels, residents say.

San Maung, a local driver, said rebels destroyed the town's main bridges last year to stop government forces from crossing with tanks and heavy trucks. As an unforeseen result, it has become difficult to bring in food and commodities.

While a bag of rice sells for 30,000 kyat (US$35) in Myitkyina, the state capital, locals in Putao now have to pay 80,000 kyat. "There has been no government effort to resolve the crisis," said San Maung.

"My family has survived for weeks on banana and bamboo shoots," said another Putao resident. “Now it's even difficult to buy bamboo shoots and if we have the money to buy rice, we have to wait in a long queue."

In a goodwill gesture Bawk Ja, a local politician from the National Democratic Force party, took a consignment of rice to Putao last week. "The only means of transporting rice to the town is by air," she said. "But as the duty on one kilo is 1,000 kyat it would cost the equivalent of 50 dollars to carry one bag of rice."

She added: “I saw government rice supplies coming into town but that's not even enough for the government employees. The situation is even more desperate in the small villages near the town."

Kachin has been gripped by renewed civil war between ethnic Kachin rebels and government forces since July last year. The clashes have created an estimated 100,000 refugees.

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