HUMANITARIAN agencies are warning of further challenges to come amid the crisis in Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar), including a possible exodus of 200,000 more people into Bangladesh as well as chronic malnutrition among children in the camps.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said on Friday that it is expecting a further 200,000 arrivals in the coming weeks. This would bring the total number of refugees in Cox’s Bazar to more than 1 million people, “exacerbating an already unimaginable humanitarian crisis,” it said.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, said it was redoubling its efforts to combat malnutrition in refugee camps. One in four children in Kutupalong – now one of the world’s largest refugee camps – are thought to be suffering from malnutrition.
So-called “clearing operations” by the Tatmadaw army of Burma in the wake of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) have resulted in the exodus of more than 607,000 people into Bangladesh in less than three months.
Some 800,000 refugees from Burma are now residing in the impoverished South Asian nation and more continue to stream across the border. An estimated 60 percent of these are children, of which thousands are separated or unaccompanied.
“This means that a quarter of Rohingya children between 6 months and five years of age – almost 40,000 – are already malnourished and in urgent need of life-saving help,” said the IRC. Tens of thousands of women in the camps are pregnant.
Moreover, some 95 percent of people in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are drinking contaminated water.
The WFP said that “food alone is not enough to beat back malnutrition; poor sanitation and unsafe water can easily make the problem worse. More than half of the new arrivals are suffering from diarrhoea.” It will conduct further nutrition assessments for new arrivals throughout November.
In September, UNICEF announced it was launching an immunisation campaign to assist Rohingya children against measles, rubella and polio.
The traumatised population’s health needs are exacerbated by the trauma of fleeing a situation the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Burmese security forces and Buddhist vigilantes stand accused of mass killings, arson and rape.
“The conditions we are seeing in Cox’s Bazar create a perfect storm for a public health crisis on an unimaginable scale,” said Cat Mahony, the IRC’s emergency response director in Bangladesh.
“Extremely vulnerable families with unmet health needs, high levels of food insecurity, limited access to health services and appalling conditions for hygiene, sanitation and access to clean drinking water – all of which contribute to these awfully high rates of malnutrition,” she added.
“The situation will only deteriorate with more arrivals and a greater strain on already overstretched resources.”