Flood-hit Myanmar needs aid to replant rice swiftly

YANGON • Farmers in flood-hit Myanmar face a scramble to replant rice fields in the next two weeks to avoid food shortages, while aid efforts in some of its hardest-hit areas remain a challenge, the United Nations said.

More than 1.3 million people have been critically affected and at least 106 people have died since heavy monsoon rains coupled with a cyclone last month caused widespread floods, said the government.

Water has receded in many areas, allowing farmers to assess damage to crops and also to seed stocks as the end of planting season nears.

"If farmers can't get seeds and plant in the next two weeks, the window for the next season is pretty much over," said spokesman Pierre Peron for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar last Saturday.

"If they are not able to replant, the impact on food security will be much larger than if we can provide them with support to replant."

Myanmar is a rice exporter but has halted exports to stabilise prices.

The UN and non-governmental organisations have supplied emergency food aid to 386,000 affected people, OCHA said in its latest situation report on the flooding.

The floods have ravaged more than 560,000ha of rice, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. Crops in over 200,000ha have been destroyed in Myanmar's worst natural disaster since Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people in 2008.

With a general election set for November, the floods have taken on a political dimension. Both the quasi-civilian government and the opposition, led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, have been at pains to show how speedily they are reacting.

The government has provided US$1.2 million (S$1.7 million) for rice seeds in badly hit Rakhine state, but "further support will be needed to help farmers and rural communities rebuild", OCHA said.

In Chin state, a mountainous region bordering Bangladesh and India that has suffered major landslides, aid workers are struggling to reach the more remote areas.

"Access continues to be difficult," Mr Peron said.

Mr Zung Hlei Thang, an MP representing Chin state, said the prices of rice and other commodities had risen sharply since the landslides made many state roads largely impassable, affecting imports.

"Living conditions are difficult," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2015, with the headline 'Flood-hit Myanmar needs aid to replant rice swiftly'. Print Edition | Subscribe