The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Nargis could expand into other nations as part of the widening food crisis.
Just six months after Bangladesh lost 800,000 metric tons of rice to Cyclone Sidr, its neighbor has seen its second rice crop of the year decimated by Nargis.
The extent of the damage isn't known, but Myanmar had been expected to be among the few nation exporting rice this year, and instead is likely to draw down world stocks of grain, which are at their lowest levels since the 1970s, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The situation around the world, by now, is well known: Rice prices have tripled this year, relief agencies and organizations are unable to feed starving people, a whole generation of children is at risk, and the United Nations Food Program is short at least $750 million.
Here's how Myanmar fits in, according to the Journal:
"Before it secured independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar then called Burma was one of the world's biggest exporters of rice. After its military government took control in 1962 and introduced a socialist-style economy, rice production slumped. A series of military leaders cut the country off from the rest of the world and expelled foreigners. While nearby Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia prospered, Myanmar missed out on Asia's economic boom.
"In recent years, as oil prices have risen, Myanmar's generals have found themselves less able to afford the subsidies they apply to local agriculture. They allowed farmers to sell rice to exporters. That has enabled Myanmar to expand its production of rice, among other crops.
"The cyclone hit during a season when the country's farmers are usually completing the smaller of two annual rice harvests. Earlier this year, state-run media said that Myanmar's leaders were confident it could produce enough rice to feed the 53 million people of the country. Grain traders were expecting the country's farmers to reap a bumper crop. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Myanmar would produce 11.3 million metric tons of milled rice this year, roughly twice the usual U.S. production. U.S. Agriculture Department analysts had estimated Myanmar could double its foreign sales this year to 400,000 metric tons."
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