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Gospel for Asia Missionaries Working with Famine Victims in Myanmar

by Staff
December 18, 2009
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CARROLLTON, Texas, (christiansunite.com) -- A natural phenomenon is causing a plague of rats in Myanmar, leading to starvation in the country's poverty-stricken Chin state and hampering the recovery from Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta area.

The heart-wrenching crisis is rooted in what the Asian people called the mautam. Mau is the Burmese word for bamboo, and tam means famine. About every 50 years a certain species of bamboo plants produces a bloom that, when eaten by the rats, increases their fertility and causes an explosion in the rat population. The latest mautam began in 2006.

The rats strip the bamboo plants of their fruit and seeds and plow their way through other crops as well, devouring grain, corn and rice. They even dig up and eat the seeds farmers planted in the ground.

"Can you imagine having to forage for leaves and bark for your family's next meal?" asked Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan. "For the people of Myanmar, this is not just a nightmare or a scene from a post- apocalyptic movie; it is their real life!"

The plague of rats has ravaged Myanmar's already impoverished Chin state for two years now, wiping out 75 percent of its crops, according to some estimates. Families are being forced to scavenge for food as their rice harvest and other staples are being devoured by rats.

"I have never seen such a huge number of rats," a Burmese farmer told Asia Times Online. "I had thought we could easily drive out the rats and protect our crops. But just before the rice was ready to be harvested, the rats came and ate all the rice in the fields in just one night. We lost all our rice."

According to a report published by the Chin Human Rights Organization, 54 people have reportedly died from health problems related to the food crisis.

Gospel for Asia missionary Zaw Dara works in Chin, Myanmar and said a village where he serves is a sad example of the effects of the mautam. The 50 families in this village are facing severe famine and a host of related illnesses since the ravenous rats tore through their crops, their stored grain, seeds and even the bamboo furniture in their meager homes.

Dara is reaching out to offer comfort, a listening ear and words of hope from the Scriptures to these people who are suffering so much. He is also working with Gospel for Asia's Compassion Services ministry to bring food and other immediate needs to the people of Chin.

Making matters worse, Myanmar's repressive military junta is denying access to international aid organizations who may want to bring in assistance, even in the face of such widespread suffering. But GFA--supported national missionaries, who were already in the country before the rat plague hit, are committed to reaching out in whatever ways they can, offering hope and comfort to these people who are hurting so much.

"Since our missionaries are already serving among the people, they are aware of their every need. We are doing all we can to take care of them," Yohannan explained.

In another part of Burma, the rat plague is wiping out much of the progress made in the recovery from Cyclone Nargis. The devastating storm hit the Irrawaddy Delta area of Myanmar May 3, 2008. The storm killed an estimated 140,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Farmland, animals, fishing boats and businesses were also destroyed by the storm, crippling commerce in the country, which relies on agriculture and rice exports for much of its national income.

When the mautam hit the Irrawaddy area, another problem became clear--the cyclone had destroyed many of the rat's natural enemies. The rats were reproducing at a much faster rate than the cats, dogs and snakes according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Efforts. This is making the current mautam last longer than those of past centuries, with more devastating results.

Farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta area have been ordered by the government to kill 15 rats a day and then turn their tails in as proof of their efforts. The UN reports that despite these extermination efforts, the rat population in the area is easily three to four times its normal level.

Gospel for Asia missionaries worked tirelessly in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and they will continue serving the people of Myanmar through this time of famine.

"No matter what the situation, our Compassion Services Teams are committed to continue serving the people of Myanmar by meeting their physical needs and sharing the love of Christ with them," Yohannan said. "And as they have humbly requested, we should continue to uphold these precious people in prayer."

Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.

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