The World Food Program warns food shortages and undernutrition in Myanmar's Rakhine State are seriously affecting the health of women and children.
More than one million Rohingyas lived in Myanmar's Rakhine State before a brutal military crackdown against the civilian population began in late August. Since then, more than 655,000 refugees have fled to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Myanmar authorities have cut off access by the U.N. and other international organizations to Rakhine State. But local aid workers are allowed to distribute a limited amount of aid to the Rohingyas.
Before the mass exodus, the World Food Program provided aid for some 250,000 people across Rakhine State. WFP spokeswoman, Bettina Luescher, said that number has gone down. But, with the help of local staff on the ground, WFP is succeeding in gradually reaching more people.
"In December, we reached 63,600 people in Northern Rakhine, twice as many as in November. And in Central Rakhine… we assisted 114,000 people. We are working with local NGO's and government authorities to distribute the food and we are coordinating with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] so we do not overlap. And, food is given to vulnerable people from all communities based on needs irrespective of ethnicity and religion," she said.
WFP reports child malnutrition rates in northern Rakhine State already were above emergency thresholds before the recent violence. It says the violence and displacement have likely made this situation worse.
In a welcome move, Luescher said the Myanmar Government has asked WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization to conduct a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission in Rakhine State to assess the food situation on the ground. She said no date has yet been set for the start of the mission.