Hundreds of thousands of children in Burma are starving and are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition over the next year, a United Nations agency has warned.
The World Food Programme‘s report was compiled after assessing 45 villages in western Rakhine state, where around 75,000 Muslim Rohingya people have fled military oppression and violence.
Around 80,500 children under the age of five are malnourished.
In an area where income is scarce and food prices are going up, the figures are bleak.
No child in the assessment met the minimum adequate diet. Only 14 per cent of women had any dietary diversity and 225,000 people need humanitarian assistance.
One third of homes in Maungdaw, one of the areas most impacted by violence, are suffering from extreme food deprivation, such as not eating for 24 hours or having no food in the house.
“It is estimated that 80,500 children under the age of five are expected to be in need of treatment for acute malnutrition over the next twelve months,” the WFP report said.
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Many men have left their homes due to combat and security issues, and single-women households were found to be the most vulnerable.
The report noted that people were “wasting”, which meant they were losing weight very fast and their immune system was being eroded as a result.
“The survey has confirmed a worsening of the food security situation in already highly vulnerable areas following the security incidents and ensuing violence in late 2016,” the report read.
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With almost half of local markets not fully operating or closing down, food prices have become “highly volatile”, and dried fish, the main supply of proteins for local people, was “scarce”.
People suffering from malnutrition will become increasingly dependent on humanitarian aid, the report said, as the upcoming rainy season and continued restriction to refugees’ movement could exacerbate the fragile food situation.
Last October Rohingya militant attacks on border police prompted violence from the army, with government forces using helicopters to attack villages.
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Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was widely criticised for the military retaliation.
More than a dozen fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates – she was awarded the prize in 1991 – wrote an open letter to the UN security council warning of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in Rakhine state.
Authorities have denied reports of abuse. They have forbidden a UN investigation of allegations of murder, gang rape and torture by the government against Rohingya Muslims, who are classed as “non-citizens”.
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“The government should act urgently to address the devastation it has wrought,” wrote Richard Weir, a fellow at the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
“And it should allow humanitarian access to all those at risk in Burma, ensuring that the rights and welfare of all Burma’s people – including the Rohingya – are upheld.”