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Rohingya say UN food aid increase insufficient to make up for previous reductions, according to Radio Free Asia

Rohingya living in Bangladesh refugee camps said the partial restoration by the United Nations of food rations is inadequate because the lack of protein and nutritious food among basic items is having a significant impact on their well-being.

The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) announced Monday that it was increasing the monthly food provision for the refugees from U.S. $8 to $10 (877 to 1097 taka) per person, which was previously cut twice from $12 (1316 taka) because of funding shortages.

While this increase is supposed to help Rohingya offset the effects of rising inflation in Bangladesh, half a dozen refugees told BenarNews that this adjustment does little to compensate for the severe consequences of the original reduction from $12, an amount they thought was already insufficient.

“In the six years since coming to Bangladesh, I still could not manage to have a piece of meat,” said Dil Mohammad, a resident of Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

“Due to the scarcity of food after the reduction in food aid, I went outside the camp to find work and make ends meet. I had one of my legs broken and have been bed-ridden ever since.”

With their monthly food voucher, Rohingya can purchase only essential food items – such as rice, pulses, oil, garlic, spices, and potatoes – from WFP-designated storage facilities. The items do not include any protein.

“I feed my baby rice powder instead of milk as there are no child-specific food items,” Begum Nur Nahar, a Rohingya woman, told BenarNews.

A photo graphic prepared by the World Food Program illustrates how the reduction in aid impacts food baskets of Rohingya in Bangladesh, Sept. 18, 2023. [WFP via X]

A staggering 90% of the 1.2 million refugee population in Bangladesh was struggling to have “acceptable food consumption” as of November, an increase of 11% from June, according to a news release issued by the World Food Program on Jan. 1.

Around the same time, acute malnutrition levels rose to 15.1%, the highest since the Rohingya influx began in 2017, it said, while noting children suffered even more.

The WFP said it would introduce “fortified rice” laced with multivitamins to help address the nutrition gap.

The genetically modified rice should also help Rohingya combat malnutrition-induced diseases such as marasmus (protein-energy malnutrition) and nyctalopia (night blindness), said Abu Toha MR Bhuiyan, chief refugee health coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and the WFP declined to respond to BenarNews’ requests for comment and referred the news service to their original statements.

The WFP said the shortfall in funding from donor nations forced it to cut back food aid in 2023 from $12 to $8 over two phases, in March and June, and that it still lacks $61 million (6.7 billion taka) in necessary funding.

“The focus of the international community has been diverted primarily by the Russia-Ukraine war and the subsequent Gaza situation,” Asif Munir, an independent migration expert, told BenarNews. “As a result, the Rohingya are now deprioritized in the global agenda.”

BD-UN-Rohingya-food-security-3.jpg
A Rohingya woman collects from a World Food Program facility at a Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 23, 2023. [WFP]

Muhammed Jubair, a Rohingya civil society leader, told BenarNews that the lack of food is silently driving refugees out of Bangladesh camps, where authorities frequently crackdown against Rohingya employment over concerns that they were taking jobs from locals.

Many Rohingya are venturing beyond the barbed-wire fences that surround the refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar to find work despite tight restrictions and threat of jails, while others join violent gangs, he said.

Many others are undertaking perilous boat journeys to migrate to Southeast Asia, even as sympathies for Rohingya are wearing thin in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

“If the Rohingya get enough rations in the camp, their tendency to leave the camp will decrease,” Jubair said. “Otherwise, the journey of death without destination on the sea will not stop.”

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen agrees.

“It’s positive that food aid for the Rohingya increased by two dollars, but let’s not forget that it had decreased by four dollars before,” he said.

“If the food aid is not restored to $12, the violence in the camps will continue to increase.”

BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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