Malnutrition in the Rohingya Crisis

Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh.  

Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh.  

The International Rescue Committee and Relief International published a report this week that has highlighted the desperate situation faced by Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar. 

The report reveals the immense scale of the crisis faced by the estimated half a million people arriving in Bangladesh, fleeing conflict in Rakhine State. In addition, the IRC warns of as many as 200,000 further arrivals in coming weeks as the conflict in Rakhine continues. 

The report revealed that in addition to a lack of diversity in diet and a lack of food, over 95% are drinking untreated water and living in conditions that run a great risk of a major health epidemic.  It is estimated that nearly a third of people have no access to appropriate latrines and are forced to defecate in the open further contaminating already dirty water supplies.  It is estimated that over 2/3 of the water supply is contaminated with feces. 

“Poor hygiene and the absence of safe, clean water is unfortunately the perfect storm for a cholera outbreak - the horrors of which we see today in places like Yemen. Matched with an overwhelmed and inadequate health response, we risk a health crisis of enormous proportions especially as displacement into Cox’s Bazar continues daily,” said Cat Mahony, IRC’s emergency response leader in Bangladesh. 

Women and children are particularly vulnerable with over half of pregnant women not receiving care in their pregnancies and 41% of families with pregnant women do not know where to receive antenatal care and one in three not knowing where they will deliver their babies.

Food security is a specific concern with only 6% of respondents in the report having acceptable food consumption scores.

This child's mother presents her 2.5 month old infant to an NPI staff member for a nutrition screening.  Early estimates indicate that one of every two children under six months is severely malnourished. 

This child's mother presents her 2.5 month old infant to an NPI staff member for a nutrition screening.  Early estimates indicate that one of every two children under six months is severely malnourished. 

A recent nutrition survey showed rates of malnutrition well above emergency levels.

The UNHCR standard for global acute malnutrition (GAM) is < 10% in a refugee population, meaning that when GAM is less than 10% in a given population the severity of the situation is considered to be of low or medium public health concern. When GAM is 10% or more, the severity of the situation is considered to be of high public health concern and immediate actions must be taken. When GAM is 15% and above you have reached critical emergency levels and you can expect many of these children to die without immediate intervention.

The rate of GAM in the refugee children is nearly 25%, well above critical emergency levels. One in four children are malnourished, tens of thousands of children who are facing a very real risk of death. 

We are especially concerned about infants who are under 6 months old who are the most vulnerable and who have estimated rates of malnutrition around 50%.

With over 2/3 of the water supply contaminated with feces, breastfeeding is critical.  Artificially fed infants are in the greatest danger.

With over 2/3 of the water supply contaminated with feces, breastfeeding is critical.  Artificially fed infants are in the greatest danger.

The population that Nurture Project International is working with is the most vulnerable in this emergency.  We are working with other NGOs to make sure that these children receive the care that they need.  Our teams are working closely with families to ensure food security for their children, we are working within programs to provide information on the importance of breastfeeding in this situation, we are working closely with infants who are artificially fed to provide additional specific support, we are teaching about the importance of cup feeding and holding bottle exchange programs, we are assisting with assessments and consultations and referrals.

This crisis is staggering.  It is a situation where vulnerable families have a multitude of unmet health needs and limited access to health services.  There are horrific conditions for hygiene and sanitation and little access to clean drinking water and high levels of food insecurity.  And the combination of all of this has created a situation where we are seeing rates of malnutrition well beyond critical, emergency levels.  The conditions we are seeing have us on track for for an unimaginable public health crisis on the grandest of scales.

And the crisis is far from over.  More refugees will come and once more assessments are conducted more people will be identified with unmet need.  The situation will only deteriorate from here as already stretched resources respond to the need.

We are working with partners to provide life saving interventions but we need your help.  All of our work is dependent on small grants and individual donations.  Over 97 cents of every dollar we spend worldwide goes directly to help displaced families in desperate need of your help.

Please donate today to our urgent Bangladesh appeal.  Consider becoming a monthly sponsor to help us in providing ongoing support.