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Aid groups on alert as Rohingya food rations drop below humanitarian norm

Oct 15, 2023Oct 15, 2023

DHAKA: Aid groups raised an alert on Thursday that rapidly decreasing humanitarian assistance threatens the lives of 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as the UN has further reduced their food rations.Since the beginning of June, the UN World Food Program's food aid for the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh has been cut to $8 per month. The WFP first reduced the rations in March, from $12 to $10, citing funding shortages.Even before the first reduction, the rations provided to the Rohingya were already insufficient and posed health problems for the refugee population. UN special rapporteurs warned in February that the refugee population in Bangladesh was food insecure, with more than a third of children stunted and underweight.Most of the refugees affected by the cuts are those who escaped deadly violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017. They live in cramped camps of Cox's Bazar district — the world's largest refugee settlement — where they cannot be legally employed to earn their livelihood as Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.As the new food reduction came into force, NGO Platform Cox's Bazar sounded an alarm that it will have severe impacts on the refugees and the host community."This reduction in ration will push the current food assistance provided to the Rohingyas…far below the recognized global humanitarian standard of 2,100 kcal, entailing a significant drop in refugees’ food intake," the group, which includes BRAC, Plan International, Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a call for action."Even before the first round of food ration cut in March 2023, with WFP's food assistance, four in 10 families were not consuming enough food."The platform warned of looming tensions with the host community and multi-dimensional social conflict."Cuts in essential humanitarian assistance have severe impacts on the refugees and the host community, which lead potentially to criminal activities, such as theft and robbery, increased domestic violence, gender-based violence, and neglect toward persons with disabilities and older individuals in the community," the group said.Rezaul Karim, head of humanitarian operations of BRAC — the largest development organization based in Bangladesh and NGO Platform member — told Arab News that the impacts of the new food cut were expected to be seen already in the next few days."Due to this budget cut, a crisis will unfold in the families, resulting in uncertainties and frustration," he said."It's a matter of great concern…It may have negative impacts on the law-and-order situation since people tend to become restive in such poverty."Asif Munir, a renowned Bangladeshi expert on migration and refugees, also warned of a possible social and health crisis beyond Cox's Bazar if Bangladesh, a developing country whose own citizens also often face malnutrition, is left to support the Rohingya alone."If the Rohingya suffer from malnutrition and lower immunity, it will have a broader impact on the society of Cox's Bazar," he said."To mitigate the fund crisis, Bangladesh may request assistance from its allies or friendly countries, including food support also. This aid may come through international aid agencies, apart from the initiatives of the WFP and UN."