Recently, while in northern Burma, I heard stories of cyclical rat plagues that lead to the migration of hundreds of villages from affected areas. Plagues in the 1970s are still fresh in some memories. These plagues, resulting from the blooming of bamboo forests, have disastrous social and ecological consequences. People starve, or are forced to flee.

The Times is carrying a detailed article on the same phenomenon that reportedly occurs every 48 years in northeast India’s Mizoram. I have some important information on the Burmese case, but had not heard of recent instances in northeast India. According to the report, the last rat outbreak in Mizoram in 1958-59 “killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people”.

In Burma, and elsewhere I imagine, these extreme events have had ongoing political and environmental impacts. Any New Mandala readers with experience of such rat “explosions” in other areas can weigh in to this discussion.

For the time being I am most concerned about the immediate impact in Mizoram.

That the world already knows what will happen in northeast India – in a special case where high-profile international media is providing preemptive coverage – I wonder how well the adverse consequences of this year’s bamboo bloom can be mitigated?

That, as the Mizoram agricultural scientist says, “there is a real danger of a famine” means this looming crisis should remain a great concern. I will endeavour to provide updates as more information comes to hand.

Update 1 (14/9/06):

Related information is available from New Kerala, the BBC, and the Islamic Republic News Agency (x2).

Update 2 (15/9/06):

The Mizoram Chief Minister has interesting comments on the rat explosion and self-sufficiency.