Rohingya Struggle to Meet Their Nutritional Needs with Latest Food Ration Cuts

Rohingya Struggle to Meet Their Nutritional Needs with Latest Food Ration Cuts

By Syed Md Tafhim

Faced with a global funding shortage, the World Food Programme recently implemented a new round of food ration cuts for Rohingya refugees living in the world’s largest refugee camp.

Rukhsaira is currently limited to eating only cucumbers and fish twice a day along with her children. Photo © ISCG, Arjun Jain


The nutrition and health consequences stand to be devastating, particularly for women and children and the most vulnerable in the community.

Among those affected is 27-year-old Rukhsaira, who arrived from Burma (Myanmar). Her husband tragically passed away two years ago due to illness. Now, she is trying to raise her two children on her own. She said-

“Just six months ago, three meals per day were provided to us. Our plates were filled with a variety of nutritious options, including rice, bitter gourd, potato fry, eggs, sweet pumpkins, and ladies’ finger, accompanied by small fishes. Now we can only eat twice a day with my kids with only cucumbers and fish”

Due to a massive funding shortfall, drastic measures were taken. WFP was forced to cut the value of food vouchers for camp residents for the second time in three months at the beginning of June. From receiving $12 a month at the beginning of the year, refugees saw their rations cut to $10 in March, and now to just $8, or 27 cents a day.

With rations reduced, Rukhsaira and her children were left with only two meals each day. Their diet was now limited to cucumbers and fish, lacking the diverse range of nutrients they had previously enjoyed.

The consequences of these cuts have been severe. Previously, each person received approximately 2100 kilocalories (KCal) per day, ensuring sufficient intake for their well-being. However, the current ration provides less than 1700 KCal, exacerbating issues of malnutrition and hunger among the refugees.

The effects have been particularly pronounced among the most vulnerable individuals—children and the elderly. Their weakened immune systems have made them more susceptible to illnesses, resulting in prolonged struggles for recovery.

In addition to the physical challenges, the emotional toll on the refugee community has been substantial. Feelings of abandonment and insignificance have permeated throughout the camp as refugees face increasing anxiety and the reality of uncertain mealtimes. The burden weighs heavily on their minds, compounding the stress and anxiety already inherent in their displaced lives.

This photo illustrates the stark consequences of the Food Ration Cut. Rukhsaira’s family, who once enjoyed three meals a day with an intake of 2,100 Kcal, now struggle with less than 1,700 Kcal per person per day. Photo © ISCG

Despite these hardships, Rukhsaira considers herself relatively fortunate compared to others in the camp. As a single female head of household, she has been granted the opportunity to work in a Jute Production Centre, earning a modest income that helps meet the urgent needs of her family. Unfortunately, the vast majority of families lack this privilege, further exacerbating their precarious situation.

Rukhsaira, a single mother, finds employment through UNHCR-supported national NGO named NGO Forum, enabling her to purchase additional food from the market. Photo © ISCG


They continue to live in dire conditions, struggling to feed their children while witnessing the further deterioration of their already fragile health. Each day is a battle for survival, characterized by limited resources and an uncertain future.

Their hope now lies with the international community, as the United Nations and its partners fervently appeal for assistance and support to ensure that no one within the refugee camp goes hungry.


Media Contacts:

In Dhaka: Igor Sazonov, UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, [email protected], +8801321169633

In Cox’s Bazar: Syed Md Tafhim, Inter Sector Coordination Group, [email protected], +8801850018235 and Faik Uyanık, Inter Sector Coordination Group, [email protected], +8801847421667

    Eight-year-old Sohida spent night alone on roadside

    Eight-year-old Sohida spent night alone on roadside

    Author: UNICEF

    Eight-year-old Sohida was in a playground when fire raged through her home in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She was in danger when she saw the fire and people running and shouting all around her. With her heart racing from fear, Sohida joined the fleeing crowd and ended up on the roadside as the night set in. A stranger gave her some food and she spent the night out in the open.
    For one so young, Sohida has already seen too much tragedy. Her parents were killed during a wave of unspeakable violence and brutality that forced over 700,000 Rohingyas to flee from their homes in Myanmar in 2017. Under the care of a religious leader from her community, Sohida is among the almost one million Rohingya refugees who now live in refugee camps across the border in the Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.When front line responders were able to contained the fire, 2,000 shelters and 22 learning centres were gone.UNICEF Bangladesh/2023/Sujan

    The morning after the fire, Sohida has made it to a temporary UNICEF shelter.
    “I was afraid of getting burnt and dying in the fire,” says a shaken Sohida.
    A social worker at the UNICEF shelter counsels Sohida and other children traumatized by the fire. They pay special attention to children separated from their families in the chaos.
    Sohida is now reunited with her foster father but challenging days are still ahead as they don’t have a place to live.

    Homeless once more
    Sohida is one of 12,000 Rohingya refugees – half of them children – who lost their shelter homes in the fire. Several facilities that provide critical services to refugee children and their families have also been destroyed. Among these are over 20 learning centres, at least one nutrition centre, and several sanitation facilities.
    UNICEF dispatched two mobile medical teams to provide emergency medical aid to injured refugees. UNICEF has also provided dignity kits to help families maintain their hygiene and sense of dignity in a desperate situation where they have lost everything of what little they owned. The dignity kits contain soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, and other critical hygiene items such as sanitary pads.The morning after; Rohingya refugee children and families in despair after yet another crisis.UNICEF Bangladesh/2023/Spiridonova

    As the long road to recovery and rebuilding now begins, the Rohingya refugees continue to rely entirely on humanitarian assistance for protection, food, water, shelter and health.
    For UNICEF, the priority is to repair and rebuild damaged facilities so that children like Sohida can go back to school and can be given essential healthcare, nutrition and sanitation services.Families pick through the charred remains to salvage what they can.UNICEF/UN0796337/Miraz/AFP

    Young Rohingya refugees are helping to turn world’s largest camp green

    Young Rohingya refugees are helping to turn world’s largest camp green

    Author: UNHCR By Kristy Siegfried in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

    Samia has spent five of her 14 years living in Kutupalong – the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world

    The series of camps that make up the settlement were carved out of the forest in southern Bangladesh in 2017 to shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Nearly one million people are now crammed into an area of just 17 square kilometres. Bamboo shelters throng the hillsides and narrow roads teem with pedestrians, rickshaws, humanitarian vehicles and traders. It is no wonder that Samia looks skyward for a sense of peace.

    “When I see a flock of birds flying nearby, I feel good,” she says. “I like the sound of the birds.”

    After arriving in Bangladesh, following a traumatic journey from Myanmar, Samia was dismayed to see the forest being destroyed as trees were cleared to make way for shelters.

    “When I first came here, I saw people kill wild animals when they entered the camps. They cut the trees and threw them away to cultivate the land. And people used to litter everywhere.”

    “Climate change means it’s too hot during the summer and too rainy during the monsoon.”

    Thanks, in part, to her efforts and those of other young Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong, attitudes towards wildlife and the surrounding forest are starting to change.

    Samia belongs to one of five youth groups in the camps that, along with five similar groups in the surrounding host community, have received training on environmental issues from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partner organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They have learned about the links between destroying trees and vegetation and the climate crisis that increasingly impacts their daily lives.

    “Climate change means it’s too hot during the summer and too rainy during the monsoon,” says Samia. “I’ve seen with my own eyes shelters being broken by landslides and people being injured.”

    Last year, the youth groups were asked to identify environmental issues affecting their section of the camp and to come up with their own solutions to them. Samia jumped on the opportunity to educate her family, friends and neighbours about the importance of protecting trees and local wildlife that wanders into the camp. She and the rest of her group run awareness-raising sessions with children, adults and local leaders like imams.

    “I tell them, ‘If you let the trees grow, you will get shade and sit peacefully under them.’ I tell them not to kill the animals because they benefit us.”

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Young group members have made waste bins from bamboo and placed them around the camp. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Members of one of the youth groups use posters to explain to other refugees how to properly dispose of their waste. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees champion environmental action in camps

    Mohammed Rofique (centre) and other members of his youth group are trying to improve waste management in their community through awareness raising. © UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

    Southern Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The refugees’ makeshift shelters, many of them built on deforested, unstable hillsides, provide little defense against tropical storms of increasing intensity. Last year alone, flooding and landslides forced some 24,000 refugees to abandon their homes and belongings and 10 refugees died during heavy monsoon rains. 

    “We are witnessing climate change every day,” says Mohammed Rofique, 18, who belongs to another youth group. “But the big countries are not seeing it; they are the ones who need to be aware. They need to stop cutting trees. Here, we’re trying to save our trees and save nature.”

    Rofique’s group is trying to improve waste management and the shortage of bins in their part of the camp, to reduce pollution and the clogging of drains and canals. 

    “People used to throw their rubbish everywhere. It smelt really bad, and it was unsafe for the children,” he says. “Rubbish used to block waterways so when it rained, it flooded and spread waste around the camp.”

    As well as making and distributing bins made from bamboo, the group has planted gardens in open areas where people used to throw their rubbish.

    Besides the obvious environmental benefits, Ehsanul Hoque, who works with UNHCR’s environment unit, points out that the youth groups are equipping young people in the camps with problem-solving and leadership skills, and giving them a sense of purpose in a place where there are very few opportunities to access higher education or livelihoods. “We’re letting them know that they can [make a difference]. You can talk to your family, your neighbour, you can start with yourself.”

    UNHCR works with partners and refugee volunteers to regreen the camps and restore the ecosystem by planting thousands of trees, shrubs and grasses, restoring waterways, and distributing Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to all households as an alternative to firewood.

    •    See also: Rohingya refugees restore depleted forest in Bangladesh

    Samia says she has persuaded her younger brothers to stop throwing stones at birds and that other refugees are receptive to the group’s messages about protecting the environment.

    “Some people don’t want to listen to us, but I truly believe that, gradually, their viewpoint will change,” she says. “At the end of the day, I feel good thinking that I raised awareness in my community.”

    Recently, when a large snake was found in her block of the camp, some of her neighbours wanted to kill it, she says. “But others said, ‘We don’t need to, we can take it to the forest and release it’. So they put it in a big jute bag and carried it there.”

    Bangladesh: ‘I am Yakub, a Rohingya refugee. I am asking the world not to forget us’

    Bangladesh: ‘I am Yakub, a Rohingya refugee. I am asking the world not to forget us’

    Author: WFP | As told to Atanu Sarma. Edited by Antoine Vallas


    Mohammed Yakub is 25 and has a 18-month-old son, Hujaifa Islam. WFP/Antoine Vallas Photo: WFP/Antoine Vallas

    Four years into the Rohingya displacement crisis, 96 percent of the refugees in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh depend entirely on humanitarian assistance. That’s close to 900,000 people, 600,000 of whom live in Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the world, having fled violence in Myanmar.

    We caught up with Yakub, a resident who is keen for the world not to forget the plight of the Rohingya. Currently, less than half of the US$943 million required for the overall Rohingya refugee response this year has been received. Rohingya communities, which this year alone have suffered unprecedented floods, a consequence of climate change, and devastating fires, need more support than ever. 

    Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh in 2017

    People fleeing their homes in Myanmar reach Cox’s Bazar, in August 2017. Photo: WFP/Saikat Mojumdar

    I am Yakub and I am Rohingya. I am from Rakhine state, Myanmar. Four years ago, in August 2017, our village was attacked, my neighbours’ houses were burned, and then mine. We ran west because there was no other direction. 

    I had no choice but to leave the land where I was born. Heading to Bangladesh took all our energy. We crossed mountains, muddy lands, and swam across streams. 

    Yakub shops for his monthly groceries in a WFP retail outlet. WFP’s outlets are stocked with staple items such as lentils, rice, vegetable oil, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables procured locally. WFP/Nihab Rahman

    Yakub shops for his monthly groceries in a WFP retail outlet. WFP’s outlets are stocked with staple items such as lentils, rice, vegetable oil, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables procured locally. WFP/Nihab Rahman

    While fleeing, we were starving for many days. We ate banana leaves, drank water from canals. We didn’t have any money. The Government of Bangladesh welcomed us, the Bangladeshi people brought us cold water and food, and then NGOs started helping us. When we finally arrived in Kutupalong camp, we cut bamboo and built a shelter with tarpaulin… then we received food from the World Food Programme (WFP). Vehicles started to move and the camp got more organized. Only then did we feel some peace of mind. 


    Kutupalong in early 2017 was known as the ‘makeshift site’.  Photo: WFP/Shehzad Noorani

    I miss the places that made me feel at home in Myanmar. I miss sitting under the shade of the large tamarind trees, chatting with my friends. I miss the picnics in our garden. I miss our mosque, I miss the bamboo bridge that crossed the canal where we used to watch time go by. 

    Four years ago, we were getting rice, lentils and oil from WFP. Now we receive e-vouchers and we can buy fresh fruits, vegetables. Thanks to assistance from Bangladeshis and people from foreign countries, things have gotten better over the years. But life in Kutupalong camp isn’t easy. Our houses are small, the streets get muddy, too many people live here. Everywhere is crowded. [Just this year] we’ve had fires and floods. 

    We never thought we would be living in houses of tarpaulin. Some people are keeping small gardens, the camp is getting greener; I like the fresh air breezing from the trees in the evening. But here will never be like Myanmar. I miss home.

    Yakub, 25, in Cox's Bazar

    Yakub is calling for ‘continued support’. Photo: WFP/Antoine Vallas

    My best memory of my four years in the camps was learning to take pictures and videos with a phone. I had never known how to use a mobile phone before. In 2018-19 WFP organized a storytelling training for a group of us. I have enjoyed capturing interesting and charming scenes from daily life, and looking at them in my free time. I love being able to share the stories of our people, our community, and my own story with the world. I would like to be a renowned journalist one day, and tell the forgotten story of the Rohingya.

    I want to thank the world for helping us in the past four years. We can eat well, but most educational activities are suspended. We need continued support for food and education, and to give us a chance to safely go back to Myanmar. 

    As we start our fifth year in Kutupalong refugee camp, with the same challenges and the same worries, I am asking you not to forget us.                              

    WFP’s food assistance to Rohingya refugees is now delivered entirely through e-vouchers, which can be used by refugees to buy staple foods and fresh local fruits and vegetables from a network of retail outlets across the camps. The programme is funded by generous contributions from Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, France, the United Arab Emirates, the United States Agency for International Development (Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance), Switzerland, the World Bank, as well as private donors.