Magway: Covid, coup and climate threaten Myanmar's agricultural heartland
Myanmar's "rice bowl" is in serious crisis, with production at risk. Every day at least a hundred people flock to the passport office hoping to emigrate, for study or work. Record high temperatures have been recorded since 2020, peaking at 47.5 degrees in Chauck. Army violence against civilians.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The February 2021 military coup, with the arrests of representatives of the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi; the Covid-19 pandemic that broke out a year earlier and 30 months later is still a global emergency; and climate change. This triple threat has prompted large numbers of Burmese citizens to flee the Magway region in central Myanmar, the largest among the divisions of the former Burma and considered the country's "rice bowl" because this is where much of the production is, or was, concentrated.
Once not too long ago, cars and vans were loaded with beans, sesame and peanuts for transport to the capital, Magwe, to the rest of the nation, and beyond. Today, however, the transport vehicles are crowded with people clutching papers and documents their hands, fleeing what was once the agricultural capital, now sunk by a food and employment crisis and a persistent lack of security.
Nay Moe Swe Kyaw runs a project aimed at distributing free meals to the needy. Since the arrival of the Omicron variant about six months ago, he says at least a hundred people a day turn to the city's passport office with hopes of leaving. Some to Japan or Singapore to finish their studies, others less fortunate to China and Thailand in search of work.
Climate change is not a recent emergency in the area, because as early as 10 years ago 72 percent of migrants said they were leaving because of environment-related problems. Over time, temperatures have risen and soils drier, making it very difficult to grow crops in many areas including Magway, Mandalay and Sagaing. Record high temperatures have been recorded since 2020 with the peak reached in Chauck (in central Magwe) with 47.5 C.
Zar Chi Lwin, of Thit Gyi village (Magway) confirms, "Our farmlands, which were previously 100 percent productive, have seen levels drop between 60 and 40 percent per acre." Unable to meet costs and repay debts, the family had to among tears sell the land at half its initial value and migrate to Yangon. A common choice with many others, she continues, because nearly 70" of her home villagers have moved to Thailand since her departure in 2010. And those who left were between 20 and 35 years old and were driven by a desire to find better conditions. "Only the elderly remain," he says, "no one of productive age.
The climate crisis and the pandemic are worsened by the military coup, which dealt the final blow to an already critical reality. The people of Magway, which borders Rakhine State and the Mandalay area, were among the first to rebel against the military takeover and for this they have suffered a very harsh army offensive, with entire villages burned, rapes, murders and arbitrary arrests of thousands of people. This critical situation has already led to a surge in crop prices and emptied entire villages. "With rising prices of raw materials and fuel," concludes Nay Moe Swe Kyaw, "people and small businesses are facing many difficulties. The longer the coup lasts, the worse the situation will be for all of us, that's for sure."