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Starvation hits Burma’s Rakhine state as food supplies dwindle

A girl wears thanakha powder on her face in a Rohingya refugee camp outside Kyaukpyu in Rakhine state, Burma, May 17, 2017. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

SEVERE food shortages are intensifying an already insecure and vulnerable part of Burma (Myanmar), leading to a worsening humanitarian plight for its predominantly Rohingya population.

According to a new report by World Food Program (WFP), starvation, malnutrition, and a desperate lack of access to food is plaguing the restive Rakhine State. The current food vacuum has left over 225,000 in search for a diminishing amount of food that is left.

The heavy food shortage is taking place in Rakhine State’s northern Maungdaw and Buthiduang, locations known for bursts of violence, driven by a tumultuous ethnic tension that has proven unstable. The zone is heavily controlled by the presence of an authoritarian security force, Tatmadaw, known for restricting and persecuting the 90 percent majority populace of ethnic Rohingya.

Famine is an exasperating new element in the region; a component that will undoubtedly affect the social crisis that already afflicts the area.

While many complex variables affect the location in terms of poverty, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact cause that led up to the current hunger crisis.

However, what is certain is that without the freedom to move freely throughout the area, thousands of Rohingya are left unable to find sustainable means of work to provide for themselves and their families

(File) A boy sleeps in a hammock inside a Rohingya refugee camp outside Kyaukpyu in Rakhine state, Burma, May 17, 2017. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Phil Roberts, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch added insight into the developing issue, telling Asian Correspondent:

“The biggest issue is that the Rohingya are locked down by severe restrictions on their right to movement.

“If they cannot leave their village without permission, and face numerous security roadblocks where police abuse their rights and extort them, they have little opportunity to earn a livelihood, farm fish, collect firewood, or undertake other activities that would enable them to have some degree of food sufficiency.”

WFP has found that Maungdaw is ranked as one of the worst locations in terms of food security in Burma. The study found that close to two-thirds of households in the township are not able to acquire an adequate amount of food to sustain a proper diet.

More so, limited access to essential services such as healthcare, and an inability to access potable water and sanitation, have also exacerbated the state of the hunger crisis.

Around a month before the survey was conducted across Maungdaw, locals admitted they faced even worse food depletion that caused severe hunger, with most survey respondents going over a day and night without food during the time period.

Tragically, children are at the most risk of life threatening outcomes from a dangerously inadequate diet. For obvious health and growth reasons, food insecurities are much more harmful for children—who in the area are now at threat of severe malnutrition.

The study found that every single child surveyed experienced an inadequate diet, raising the number of malnourished children to approximately 80,500.

Many are concerned that the food shortages are purposeful in an attempt to weaken the Rohingya populace by cutting food supplies to the divisive area. Roberts added that the foundation of the issue stemmed from a desire to rid the location of ethnic Rohingya.

“At the core of this whole situation is the reality that the Burma government and military want the Rohingya to go somewhere else, and they are prepared to make their lives as miserable as possible to accomplish that,” he said, alluding to the need for humanitarian aid in the region.

“This is why there needs to be an impartial, independent investigation of abuses, like that authorised by the UN Human Rights Council in the form of the fact-finding commission, which Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her government are now blocking from entering Burma.”

Since the violent crackdown last October, the Burmese army has made life even more difficult for the close to one million Rohingya living in Rakhine.

Burma security forces patrol along the border fence. Source: AP

Immediately following the clampdown, thousands of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in hopes of escaping the violent realities that were occurring to their neighbours, friends, and families in Rakhine state.

Since then, newly-appointed Burma leader Suu Kyi has for the most part remained quiet or impartial regarding the gradual, yet steady abuse of rights to the Rohingya populace in the Maungdaw area.

In interviews, she has dodged acknowledging the many rights abuses that have, and are still taking place inside Maungdaw.

For years, the Rohingya have become subject to varying degrees of suffering, from being denied citizenship, to freedom of movement, to rape and murder on a scale that many claim is genocidal in scope.

As the situation continues to devolve, with 225,000 that are in an imperative need for humanitarian assistance, the pinnacle of concern falls on children under five.

As according to the report, this young age group is at the most danger of severe malnutrition and hunger leading to dire consequence.

Roberts underlined this fact precisely, highlighting the life saving need for international aid.

“International humanitarian agencies need to be provided with unfettered access to all areas of northern Rakhine state to do what they do – provide food and services to keep people alive. The Burmese military and government need to step aside and let the professionals do what they do, and save lives.”


© Copyright 2017 Asian Correspondent

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