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Muslims and Buddhists who lost their homes and livelihoods due to conflict in Burma’s Arakan state, one of the country’s poorest regions, are quickly running out of food, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned.
Thousands of people who fled the violence are now living in camps for displaced people. With tension still high, they will not be able to return to their communities in the near future but will face severe food shortages, the WFP says.
The UN agency said they are able to source food locally to help the displaced people but unless new funding is found, the food will run out in February.
Footage filmed by the WFP in October during Eid showed destroyed mosques and houses and locals living in temporary camps.
According to the WFP some 3,000 displaced Buddhist are living in the Sae Yoe Kya camp, most fled Sittwe city after the unrest, leaving behind their homes and livelihoods.
“We had to run because Muslims burned our home. We never thought that this would happen. We had to run to save our lives, and had no time to collect our belongings or even our food,” said Nwe Nwe, a young Buddhist woman living in the camp.
The WFP provides the people in the camp with rice, chickpeas, oil and salt. Children, pregnant women and new mothers are given special fortified cereals.
The displaced Muslims in Baw Du Ba camp receive similar food rations.
The WFP has built 320 shelters, water pumps and tanks and latrines in the camp, which houses some 15,000 people. One of them is a young Muslim mother of five called Fatima. She, too arrived at the camp empty-handed after having to flee from her home.
“They burned our homes and chased us with knives,” she said.
Near Sittwe, at a nutrition centre run by Action Against Hunger (ACF) health checks on locals provide an indication of the level of malnutrition in the region.
A six-month-old baby was diagnosed as severely malnourished.
While Burma has one of the highest stunting rates in the world, Arakan State is particularly hard hit and has a fifty percent stunting rate for children, the WFP said.
The UN agency said it has been providing regular food assistance to displaced people in Arakan State since the outbreak of violence in June 2012 and currently reaches some 142,000 people per month in and around Sittwe.
In order to help local farmers and the economy, the WFP says it uses locally grown rice for its food rations.
As a consequence of the conflict, local economies have broken down and many people no longer have access to jobs and markets and are reliant on humanitarian assistance.
But the WFP warned it urgently needs funding to keep the food aid going.
“The World Food Programme is reaching almost all of them-almost all the people who have been displaced but, the funding is going to run out at the end of the year”, said WFP spokesperson Jonathan Dumont. “It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look like these people are going back to their communities anytime soon. If funding doesn’t continue then they are going to be in even worse shape than they are now because the food is going to run out.”
According to the agency, US $13 million is needed to provide life-saving food assistance to the displaced people over the next six months.