Myanmar’s “rice bowl” is undergoing a serious crisis, which is endangering its production. Every day, about a hundred people crowd into the passport office hoping to emigrate, to study or work. Since 2020, record temperatures have been recorded with peaks of 47.5 degrees in Chauk. Army violence against the civilian population.
Yangon ( / Agencies) – Magway is in check after the military coup in February 2021 – with the arrests of representatives of the democratic government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi -, the Covid-19 pandemic that broke out a year earlier and which is still a global emergency after 30 months and climate change. A triple threat that has sparked an exodus: Burmese citizens flee Magway. This region, located in the center of Myanmar and the largest in the former Burma, is often called the “rice bowl” of the country, because it is there where much of the agricultural production is concentrated – or was concentrated.
In the not-too-distant past, cars and vans were loaded with beans, sesame and peanuts for transport to the regional capital, Magwe, and the rest of the nation. And even beyond. Today, however, the means of transport are jammed with people with papers in their hands, fleeing what used to be the agricultural capital, now stifled by a food and employment crisis and a persistent lack of security.
Nay Moe Swe Kyaw runs a project that aims to distribute free meals to those most in need. As he says, since the Omicron variant arrived, about six months ago, nearly a hundred people a day head to the city’s passport office hoping to get away. Some want to flee to Japan or Singapore to finish their studies. Others, less fortunate, want to go to China or Thailand to find work.
For this area, climate change is not a recent emergency: 10 years ago, 72% of emigrants declared that they were leaving due to problems related to the environment. Temperatures have risen and soils have become drier, complicating cultivation in many areas including Magway, Mandalay and Sagaing. Since 2020, record temperatures have been recorded, with a peak of 47.5 degrees Celsius in Chauk (in the center of Magwe).
Tsar Chi Lwin, from Thit Gyi village, Magway, confirms: “Our lands, which used to produce 100%, today fell to levels of between 60% and 40% per acre. With tears in his eyes, Unable to meet expenses and pay debts, his family had to sell the land for half its original value and emigrate to Yangon Many other families have made the same decision: since his departure in 2010, almost 70% of the inhabitants of his village have moved to Thailand. Those who left were between 20 and 35 years old and were driven by the desire to find better living conditions. “Only the elderly remain; no one of productive age,” he says.
In addition to the climate crisis and the pandemic, the military coup has given the coup de grace to an already critical situation. Residents of Magway, which borders Rakhine State and the Mandalay area, were among the first to rise up against the military coup. As a consequence, they suffered directly from the brutal offensive of the army: the soldiers burned down entire villages, raped, killed and arbitrarily detained thousands of people. The situation became critical and caused an increase in crop prices, emptying entire towns. With the rising prices of raw materials and fuel,” concludes Nay Moe Swe Kyaw, “people and small businesses are facing many difficulties. The longer the blow lasts, the worse the situation will be for all of us, that’s for sure.”