Second lockdown forces Myanmar’s slum dwellers to hunt for rats and reptiles to stave off hunger
YANGON (MYANMAR) – When the first wave of the pandemic hit Myanmar in March, Ma Suu, 36, was forced to close her salad stall and pawn jewellery to buy food.
It was a double whammy for her when the government ordered people to stay home, forcing her to close her stall in the capital in September. This time, she sold her clothes, plates and pots.
With barely anything to eat, her husband, who is a construction worker without a job, now hunts for food in the open drains by the slum where they stay on the outskirts of the city.
“People are eating rats and snakes,” Ma Suu said. “Without an income, they need to eat like that to feed their children.”
Their Hlaing Thar Yar nieghbourhood is one of Yangoon’s poorest where residents can be seen using flashlights while searching for animals in the undergrowth to stave off hunger.
In rural areas, rats and reptiles are eaten. But poverty has forced people in urban areas to adopt a similar diet.
The country has more than 40,000 cases and has recorded 1,000 fatalities so far. It has one of Southeast Asia’s worst outbreaks and the crippling lockdown has left hundreds of thousands of people like Ma Suu on the verge of starvation.
According to local administrator Nay Min Tun, as much as 40 per cent of households in his part of Hlaing Thar Yar have received aid. But many workplaces are shut and people are becoming desperate.
Myat Min Thu, the lawmaker from the area who belongs to the ruling party, said government aid and private donations were being distributed, but not all could be covered.
This crisis has overshadowed the general election scheduled for Nov. 8, though Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is still expected to win by a reasonably good margin.
Even before the outbreak, as much as a third of the 53 million people were considered to be “highly vulnerable” to poverty in spite of recent gains after the nation emerged from decades of isolation under military rule.
The lockdown and the ensuing financial turmoil will once again push many into poverty.
The World Bank warned in September that poverty in the country is slated to rise for the first time in two decades because of the pandemic and close to 38 million are expected to be pushed into poverty.
The government has come out with a one-off food package and three cash grants of $15 each for poor households as part of a relief plan. But many families say it falls short.
According to the results of a survey involving more than 2,000 people across the country in April, 70% had stopped working and a quarter had taken out loans for food, medicine, and other essentials.
Foreign remittances have dried up and sectors driving industralisation such as tourism and garment industry have come to a grinding halt, said Gerard Mccarthy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore.