Areas around Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are facing a worsening food security crisis, according to a report by a UN organised body.
In its annual Global Report on Food Security, The Food Security Information Network (FSNI) said residents of Bangladesh’s Cox's Bazar city are struggling for food and other resources due to the huge influx of Rohingya refugees.
Nearly a million members of the largely Muslim Rohingya community have sought refuge in Bangladesh, fleeing acts of genocidal violence by Buddhist gangs and the Myanmar military.
The community has settled in one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions in Bangladesh, where most local households typically derive their livelihood from small farming plots of around a hectare or less, and fishing.
“At least 100 hectares of cropland in Teknaf and Ukhiya have either been occupied by refugee settlements or rendered useless by sandy soil flowing down from the mountain slopes,” the FSNI said in the report.
Food security for host communities showed a marked deterioration, with the percentage of households with poor or borderline poor food consumption increasing sharply from 31 percent in 2017 to 80 percent in the August to September period of 2018.
Researchers said that nearly 2,000 hectares of forest reserves have also been damaged due to the settlements, depriving the local community of a means to earn a living from forests.
Around 750,000 kilograms of timber, vegetation, and roots are collected daily by the community from the forest for cooking fuel.
The FSNI is an initiative organised by the UN World Food Programme and others.
Most Rohingya headed to the southeastern region of Chittagong, or to Cox’s Bazar to escape persecution and killings by the Myanmar government, which the UN has described as ‘textbook’ ethnic cleansing.
Refugees become vulnerable to crime
The situation with food scarcity is forcing some Rohingya into petty crime to make ends meet.
Three suspected robbers were shot dead in a gun fight in Cox’s Bazar on Saturday, according to the Bangladesh police. The assailants, who were all young Rohingya refugees, were staying in a camp nearby and were hiding weapons on a hill when they encountered the officers.
In March, a female Rohingya refugee was killed during an apparent gunfight with border guards, also in Cox’s Bazar.
The troops had come across suspected drug dealers when the firefight erupted.
“The government...should diversify their aid programs into education and livelihood creation so that Rohingya youths can engage in income generating activities in the future,” Nazmus Sakib, a local journalist, told TRT World, adding that "continuous deterioration of security situation in the refugee camps have made the aid workers and the refugees extremely vulnerable to violent activities."