With a lack of vegetation sources and poor infrastructure to generate nutrition supply, the Rohingya population faces a hunger crisis
Famine and starvation have historically been the most deadly weapons of genocide against the oppressed Rohingya minorities in Myanmar. By blocking food supply, farming and hunting, the Myanmar military forced multiple Rohingya communities to either evacuate their camps or stay without a consistent food supply. As a result, alongside other reasons, 750,000 Rohingya refugees fled out of their homes in 2018.
Today, the food crises still lingers in displaced Rohingya communities with high malnutrition rates, infant deaths and overall calorie deficits caused by low government spend and poor distribution of nutritional resources allocated for the Rohingya refugees.
Before the massive influx of the Rohingya population in Bangladesh, the primary cause of major nutritional deficits could be linked to the Burmese special operations in Rohingya camps that aimed to make unliveable conditions with the intent to incentivise Rohingya migration out of the country. The current President of Myanmar at the time, Htin Kyaw Win Myint, had a direct political interest and pressure from his voter base to actively support mass removal of Rohingya populations. According to SCMP’s 2018 search mission, bodies were often found floating down the local river towards the Rohingya villages for illegal fishing which created fear amongst the people hence limiting food supply.
Forced starvation is a veteran genocidal tactic used by oppressors such as Stallin during the 1932 Holodomor against a large Ukranian population. A direct relationship can be drawn to what happened in 2017-2018 Myanmar where the government exploited its food chain supply to starve out Rohingyan families
Due to the Myanmar’s government consistently denying independent search reports, the UN has been unable to officially declare the food deprivation crises as a cause of genocide, which has sparked tension in the international community as it sets precedent for allowing countries to exploit populations while keeping the UN from officially imposing global punishments. The Burmese delegates have also been massively underplaying the negative externalities stemmed from military placement surrounding Rohingya regions and have justified their “strict military actions” as a counteract against local terrorism.
As of 2022, contrary to multiple refugee interviews and claims, the Burmese government denies all claims of using starvation or food supply manipulation against the Rohingya population.
Today, the Rohingya people still suffer from some of the worst food crises in human history with 86% of the population highly vulnerable to poverty and hunger in 2020. Coupled with the Covid 19 pandemic and a massive influx of populations in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar, the pressure on local farmers and merchants to supply low-cost food had immensely increased hence worsening the food security situation of Rohingya refugees and host communities in Cox’s Bazaar. Overcrowded camps and strained host families, especially in Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts, have led the Government of Bangladesh to relocate some 17 000 Rohingya refugees, of whom 56 percent children, to Bhasan Char. An additional 83 000 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar are planned to be relocated to a remote silt island in the Bay of Bengal. Despite the challenging conditions in Bhasan Char as well as in Cox’s Bazar, supporting the livelihoods and resilience of affected people is crucial to the humanitarian response. Rehabilitating land and providing both refugee and host communities with agricultural, fisheries and livestock production assistance can equip them with the necessary means to feed themselves thereby increasing their self-reliance.
However, the co-operation from the Food Security Cluster (FSC) in Bangladesh, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the World Food Programme alongside 52 local and international partners has been able to drive significant efforts to improve food distribution and improve calorie intake levels. Some key solutions outlines by the UNHCR to combat the food supply crises involve:Training in agricultural skills, the provision of seedlings and livestock, as well as emergency cash support. According to the UNHCR report, this has already helped over 40000 families by allowing local farmers to set up their produce at local marketplaces and end the food shortages to a large extentSetting up vertical gardening systems in late 2020 which allows refugees to use bamboo frames to convert their shelter rooftops into vegetable gardens. By providing resources needed to set up the vegetable gardens, the UNHCR has allowed over 3500 households to improve their food supply at much lower costs, thus easing access to food.Improve access to nutrient-rich food for Rohingya refugees through the provision of inputs and capacity building in Bhasan Char. This is done by providing household agricultural training on microgardening.Strengthen the capacities of smallholder farmers’ organizations in accessing improved information and communication technology (ICT)-based extension services and digital finance, and connecting public-private service providers with aggregation data centres for income generationStrengthen vulnerable communities’ resilience to shocks through alternative sources of livelihood and contribute to mitigating conflict over natural resources. This is done through the provision of equipment to and training of youth on livelihood activities, and providing emergency food supplies with high shelf-life.