United Nations agencies fear a crisis over food security in Myanmar in the coming months may trigger the migration of thousands of people into neighbouring countries seeking work. The agencies say sustained assistance to Myanmar needs to be in place for a year until fresh rice crops can be planted and harvested.
Myanmar cyclone survivors wait in line for rice donations on the outskirts of Yangon
United Nations agencies fear Myanmar is slipping into a serious food security crisis following Cyclone Nargis. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in its latest assessment, said the situation was deteriorating as a result of "food shortages and high food prices."
The report said food access was disrupted in the Irrawaddy delta region, which also led to "sharply rising food prices in other parts of the country".
The FAO report comes as U.N. officials from the World Food Program (WFP) say international food assistance to Myanmar may need to remain in place for at least a year.
International aid agencies say as many as two million people are still to receive urgent care almost a month after the May 2 cyclone that devastated the Irrawaddy delta region of Myanmar.
Delta was Myanmar's rice bowl
Paul Risley, a spokesman for WFP in Asia, says just 25 per cent of people needing assistance have received food or regular supplies over the past month. He says the Irrawaddy delta’s devastation will have long term implications:
"This was the most food secure area in the entire country. Not only did the cyclone hit this area but it hit just before the main harvest season for the entire area. Right now you’ve got this terrible prospect of entire villages, entire areas that are completely unpopulated."
The cyclone killed 78,000 people with 56, 000 still missing. The human death toll was also accompanied by the loss of 150,000 water buffalos necessary for the planting of the next rice crop.
According to Risley, a long term commitment from the international community will be required: "There will be needs for continued food assistance in all these communities -- not only over the next three months to six months but possibly until the next proper good harvest and that’s going to be literally a year away."
Small time window for planting season
Sally Thompson, deputy executive director with the refugee aid organization Thailand Burma Border Consortium, warns of increasing numbers of people migrating from the hard hit areas if the next rice planting fails.
"At the moment there’s this very small window for the planting season for the second cropping and the second harvest in the delta region", says Thompson. "If people are unable to do that they have no hope of any livelihood support. Their livelihoods have essentially been decimated and therefore we could see people making their way to Thailand in search of work."