Thousands of Rohingya infants and children who have entered Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar are starving amid baby food crisis and no or only little reliefs so far reached them in absence of focused assistance for the children.
Breastfed infants are worst sufferers as their lactating mothers are passing their days without or only on a little food.
International aid agencies and foreign and local relief distributors have so far paid only a little attention to the need of children, local people said.
‘There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,’ said UNICEF representative in Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder.
‘There are scarcity of food for wide across the population it include baby food,’ International Organisation for Migration Asia-Pacific region spokesperson Chris Lom told New Age on Monday.
He said that many malnourished children were taking treatment at camp clinics. ‘I have seen children running after vehicle, it is crazy,’ he added.
Save the Children Bangladesh humanitarian director Mostak Hussain said that primarily all aid providers were focusing on basic amenities for Rohingyas like shelter, food, sanitation. ‘We are providing some semolina and sugar to lactating mothers to feed their babies but we have limitations in capacities and human resources,’ he added.
UNICEF said that over 2 lakh Rohingya children had fled to Bangladesh, with and without families, to save their lives since August 25 when latest spell of violence erupted in Rakhine State of Myanmar.
The UN agency also estimated that of the total children, about 1.10 lakh were less than two years who needed proper feeding and 60,704 were infants under six months.
Infants under six months need exclusive breastfeeding and they need to continue to be breastfed until two years
of age with appropriate complementary food.
UNICEF said that these Rohingya children were falling sick as they had not properly slept for days and they were weak after trekking mud road and hills. They did not have proper healthcare and also there was high risk of waterborne diseases among the children. Many children were malnourished and there was a risk of an outbreak of killer diseases like measles.
‘Conditions on the ground place children at risk of high risk of water-borne disease. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children.’ Edouard Beigbeder said.
Rohingya women Setara Begum, 35, now at Rubber Garden of Ukhia said that her four-month old boy was crying for breastfeeding ‘I cannot bear this,’ she said.
Sultana at Balukhali camp said that her three-month old baby girl was suffering from fever but she could not breastfeed as she did not get proper food in the past three-four days.
‘We are living on puffed rice and biscuits,’ she said.
Both said that they could run after reliefs with their children so they were totally depending on others as they currently did not know whereabouts of their husbands.
UNICEF nutrition specialist Mayang Sari said that in the stressful situation mother’s breastfeeding was also disrupted affecting children.
Children deprived of proper breastfeeding get sick very often, their cognitive developments, including brain development and IQ development, are hampered, the specialist said.
Food crisis is also high among hundreds of unaccompanied Rohingya children separated from both parents and relatives in the violence. UNICEF identified 1,267 unaccompanied and separated children. It, however, expressed fear that the number might increase a lot in the coming days.
More than 4,12,000 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh fleeing ethnic cleansing in Rakhine since August 25, with thousands more arriving every day. About 60 per cent of them are children.
Some 600,000 Rohingya children could flee to Bangladesh by the
end of the year, according to UN agencies, Save the Children chief in Bangladesh Mark Pierce told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.