Dhaka – The UN’s World Food Programme began distributing emergency food aid on Sunday to 120 000 people facing famine in south eastern Bangladesh, where an invasion of rats led to widespread crop destruction.
People from the affected areas in the Chittagong hill tracks were struggling to feed themselves and had been eating wild roots from the jungle ever since the area was overrun by millions of rats, the WFP said.
It said its food aid would meet the immediate needs of over 25 680 households from May to August this year and would help “maintain adequate food consumption and protect livelihood”.
“Thousands of poor tribal families would have remained destitute due to the loss of their crops, and livelihoods,” said the acting WFP representative in Bangladesh Edward Kallon.
“The donor assistance has enabled WFP to respond quickly to feed these vulnerable poor families who are in need of food,” he said.
150 000 people affected
Aid workers said the rat invasion had affected about 150 000 people.
Bangladesh’s army, local officials and the UN Development Programmes were also handing out aid in affected areas.
The flowering of bamboo forests for the first time in 50 years in the affected areas, located along a 300-kilometre border stretch with India, led to the so-called “rat-flood”.
The rodents multiplied by feeding on bamboo blossoms, rice stalks and vegetables. Villagers said that whatever they tried to grow was devoured within hours.
Plague every 50 to 60 years
The bamboo forests first began blossoming last year in the Lusai Hills in the neighbouring Indian state of Mizoram. Authorities declared it a disaster zone after rats went on to eat food stocks.
Locals said the plague happened once every 50 to 60 years, with the last such disaster in 1958.
It was feared the rats would infest the region for at least three more years, as they did in the late 1950s.
Source: News 24