Cross-Border Aid Needed to Address Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Chinland
March 7, 2008 – Rising cost of living and arbitrary and repressive policies of the ruling military junta are driving Chin people into deeper and deeper humanitarian crisis, causing serious alarm of hunger and famine for communities across Burma ‘s western frontier.
Latest information from inside Chin State indicates that more and more communities are finding themselves adversely affected by rising cost of living, arbitrary and excessive tax, forced labor programs and other repressive policies of the State Peace and Development Council. In many parts of Chin State , hunger and famine are becoming a reality for the first time since the army takeover 19 years ago as previously self-sufficient communities are no longer able to make ends meet.
Ordinary Chin families such as farmers who account for the majority and make up the backbone of local economy are worst affected by the crisis due to various restrictions and bans, as well as excessive taxes imposed on them by military authorities. In parts of Falam township of northern Chin State farmers are completely banned from clearing new forests for the 2008 cultivation season while imposition of restrictive rules and arbitrary taxes are preventing other communities such as those in the southern township of Matupi from continuing to make their sole and traditional means of livelihood.
Additionally, many rural communities are bracing for, or are already dealing with, the rapid boom of crop-eating rodent population with the flowering of bamboos, which has historically driven local communities into disastrous famine every half a century or so.
Urban residents such as those living in major towns are facing similar economic crisis. Rising commodity prices and living costs, compounded by various forms of arbitrary and often excessive taxes are taking a toll on Chin families. Apart from excessively large sums exacted for property and municipal taxes, families are required to pay as much as 30, 000 Kyats per household per year in order to be exempt from government-sponsore d forced labor programs such as portering and construction related to development and military purposes. This does not include other ‘donations’ that each family must pay on a regular basis such as for the cost of militia and vigilante training conducted by the army in towns and villages across the state. In total, each family ends up paying as much as 300,000 to 400, 000 Kyats to the military government.
Despite increasing evidence of humanitarian crises nationwide and the crippling economy, Burma ‘s military regime still refuses to acknowledge the extent of the country’s problems. The expulsion late last year of Charles Petrie, the head of the United Nations Office in Burma who had voiced concerns over the unfolding crises and the various restrictions on, and official interference with the activities of international humanitarian agencies working in the country, are cases in point.
Unfortunately for the Chins, their isolated region lies beyond the reach of very few international aid agencies that are currently allowed to work in Burma . Chin State is designated as a grey zone where insurgency is active, and thus remains restricted. With virtually no help flowing from international agencies from inside Burma , Chin people can expect little help from the outside world to help cope with what is a dire humanitarian situation.
Most obviously, recent announcements by the military junta to hold a constitutional referendum and new elections are not going to have any positive impacts on the humanitarian situations, nor are they likely to reverse the worsening trend of human miseries and rights abuses in Chin State .
In such a situation, it is urgent and imperative that the international community and aid organizations find an alternative way to deliver the much needed humanitarian help to the Chin people, including by cross-border aid delivery from neighboring India in order to avert what clearly will be a disastrous consequence.
[This article is taken from the editorial page of Chin Human Rights Organization’ s publication Rhododendron News January-February 2008 issue]