After the Cyclone, Myanmar Battles 50 Year Rat Problem

Sometimes the news is so bad and so removed from your daily experience that the only thing you feel capable of doing is making sure people know. So here it is: after being decimated by Cyclone Nargis this Spring Myanmar is suffering through a protracted natural disaster that the government had 50 years to prevent. 50 years.

Called the maudam, twice a century the region's bamboo flowers produce a fruit that attracts rats. Hoards upon hoards of rats. Beyond the obvious squeamishness associated, the effect is even greater and long lasting. The rats consume all of villagers' food before turning to the seeds for the crops, ensuring that recovery is lengthy verging on impossible. The last three instances of the maudam, in 1862, 1911 and 1958, were all followed by devastating famine.

To see what the experience is like, read more.

One villager says this of the current catastrophe, "Last year during the harvest the rats came and ate almost all our rice. Our corn has also been totally destroyed. I have just one bag of rice left for my family. After that there's nothing. People in my village are going into the jungle to find wild vegetables, like leaves and roots to mix with a little rice. Our situation is desperate." A local Human Rights Organization estimates as many as 200 villages are affected by severe food shortages and at least 100,000 people, or 20 percent of the local population, are in dire need of food aid.

Waiting for that aid to arrive isn't possible for some, and the exodus to India is underway. "We love our native land. But we don't know how we can survive here any longer."