Hunger and disease haunt Rohingya refugees

Dec 22, 2017

‘Sometimes we borrow from neighbors or we starve’  

Hunger and disease haunt Rohingya refugees

A Rohingya boy collects water from a puddle at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Dec. 7. Refugees living in remote corners of the camps say they are forced to drink unsafe water. (Photo Stephan Uttom/

Rohingya Muslim refugee Hamida Begum becomes anxious twice a month when faced with a shortage of food for herself and her nine children.

They receive 50 kilograms of rice, two kilograms of edible oil, two kilograms of lentils, one kilogram of salt and one kilogram of sugar in two installments.

“The food we get is not enough to feed the whole family for a month,” Hamida told Dec. 7 at the Balukhali refugee camp in the Cox’s Bazar coastal strip of Bangladesh.

“Sometimes we borrow from neighbors or we starve.”

The family, with five boys and four girls, has only a tarpaulin for shelter.

In October 2016 they fled neighboring Myanmar’s Rakhine State following bloody military retribution against innocent civilians for Rohingya militants murdering nine police officers.

Hamida says Myanmar police arrested her husband, Jahur Mian, over alleged militant links and he remains missing.

For the family, the only source of survival now in the Balukhali camp of about 200,000 refugees is the twice-monthly rations provided by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

The family recently also received building materials from the UN.

Another refugee, Osman Gani, 53, fled to Bangladesh in September with his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

The family is sheltering in the Kutupalong camp at Cox’s Bazar, which is the largest of about 12 camps in the district.

The family does not have a WFP food card, which means they have to rely on neighbors and donations from local Bengali people.

Gani alleged a Rohingya leader tried to extort 200 Taka (US$ 2.5) from him for a supposedly free WFP card, money he did not have.

Anwarul Jalil, a community organizer with the WFP, admitted to flaws in the food supply system.

While families with more than eight members were supposed to get two food ration cards instead of one, there could be delays because of ‘database’ shortcomings and other issues, Jalil said.


Diseases and deaths

While some shelter blocks have access to medical care, there are many reports of difficulties in the more remote parts of sprawling camps.

Anwara Begum, 50, was grieving the death of her two-year-old granddaughter, Parmina, the previous week after the infant developed a rash and a fever.

Anwara resides deep inside the Kutupalong camp where one small medical facility caters to 300 refugee families. Doctors are often not available.

She now fears for another sick granddaughter living on an out-of-the-way hillside several kilometers from the nearest clinic.

Anwara Begum, 50, a Rohingya woman living in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar shows the ID card of Parmina, her two-year-old granddaughter who died of an unknown illness last week. (Photo Stephan Uttom/

There is a scarcity of drinking water, so many refugees collect water from unsafe sources such as muddy puddles.

Dr. Misbahuddin Ahmed, a local hospital physician, said the Bangladesh government and aid groups have been looking into the health needs of the refugees, including dangers posed by contagious diseases.

“We are trying our best but due to a shortage of staff we are grappling to cope with demands,” Dr. Ahmed told

He said that with help from the World Health Organization (WHO) and non-government organizations, up to one million refugees had been vaccinated against cholera.

A recent WHO survey found that 722 children were infected with diptheria and that nine had died from it.

This article was first published in UCANews on 19 December 2017,

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