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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/24/08

Burma Urgently Needs Democratic Reforms Sponsored by the UN

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Food security situation in cyclone-hit Burma is worsening due to food shortages and soaring food prices. Out of 2.4 million affected people, hundreds of thousands in the remote rural communities of the Irrawaddy Delta still do not have sufficient food to eat. After cyclone Nargis hit the delta, food disruption took place as the areas were inundated and communication severely cut.

As a result, sharply mounting food prices in other parts of the country are posing a risk to national food security. In Rangoon and surrounding townships, a 50 kg bag of rice – mediocre grade – which cost 12,000 Kyats before the cyclone, is now selling above Ks. 24, 000. Poor people in Myanmar spend on average 70 percent of their household budget on food, and they cannot afford to buy the same quantities of food at the present high prices.

Situation may be worst as 52,000 farmers in cyclone-hit delta have been facing difficulties to sow the new rice crop by August for they have no prospect of getting immediate aid. In the first major assessment of the damage wrought by the May 2 cyclone on Burma's rice bowl, 570,000 hectares of land was submerged in 11 badly-affected townships surveyed by the UN agency and government officials said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on June 18, 2008 at press briefing in Bangkok.

'We are talking about 52,000 farmers and if they are not supported then they will not be in a position to resume the cultivation of paddy - the monsoon crop in 2008,' FAO specialist Albert T. Lieberg told the press.

"Although it seems to be small, it would be a fatal error if we just concentrated on figures and percentage. What is important is the number of families suffering," he said.

The farming families need immediate aid of such as providing seed paddy, draught-animals, fertilizer and other materials to help them to plant a new crop. The storm surge wiped out up to 85 per cent of seed paddy stockpiled by farmers and killed 120,000 draught animals.

"They lost their production assets, such as seeds, fertilizer, agricultural tools, draught animals," Hiroyuki Konuma, the FAO's deputy regional representative, told reporters in Bangkok. He also said, “Without external support, they will suffer from hunger and poverty for a long time ... Time is not on our side."

Burma’s junta was heavily criticized for its dawdling response to rehabilitate the agriculture sector after the cyclone razed vast area of paddy-fields. The FAO's three-week assessment of the worst-affected areas found that 32 million dollars were required for instantaneous relief, while the rehabilitation over a two-year period would cost 51 million dollars.

Khin Maung Nyo, a Burmese economist in Rangoon, has recently said that Burma will suffer rice shortages in the upcoming year in an interview with Oslo based Democratic Voice of Burma.

“In my opinion, I am concerned over whether official data from the regime are reliable and I am worried that there will not be sufficient rice,” Khin Maung Nyo responded.

He also said, “It is obvious that the regular rice imports from the Delta have disappeared. Also, the rice price has noticeably increased. So I am worried about it based on the indicators – price hike and lack of supply. I don’t think we have enough domestic capacity to make the situation better by ourselves. We must have massive, effective international assistance.”

Even though, the Burmese junta is reluctant to intensify its relationship with sympathetic nations, the United Nations’ agencies, INGOs and private-donors in the relief and rehabilitation efforts. It has instead been thwarting these efforts far and wide without regard for cyclone victims.

While the state-run media are overstating propaganda about the junta's relief and reconstruction plans, the Burmese Generals have been suppressing the candid critics of the regime's irresponsible move toward cyclone relief. Ko Thura, who is nationally known as Comedian Zarganar, was the first victim of the crackdown. Then, the next victims were the amateur photo-journalists or civilian-reporters who provided informative photos and video footages of cyclone-hit towns and villages to foreign news agencies.

Afterward, Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and several altruistic citizens were arrested as they supported the relief efforts in the cyclone-hit villages where the authorities failed to help. All of these detainees were actively involved in helping the cyclone victims. Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe were leading figures of a volunteer-group. They have been successfully doling out relief aid and they were known as outspoken interviewees to foreign media. Both were former political prisoners for their democratic ways of thinking and activities.

The most repugnant action of the junta was the arrest of seven volunteers who were members of a team known as “The Group that Buries the Dead”. According to The Irrawaddy News Magazine, they were arrested on June 14, following their efforts to bury victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Those who died, their bodies in decomposed sate, since the cyclone hit on May 2-3, were given simple cremation or burial rites. Aung Kyaw San, the chief-editor of The Myanmar Tribune weekly Journal, and his civilized volunteers carried out the depressing task of removing some of the many corpses that still lie in the rivers and fields throughout the delta.

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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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