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UN reacts to food crisis in Rakhine State

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Tuesday that it has begun distributing food for more than 27,000 people in townships affected sectarian violence in Burma’s Rakhine state.

Addressing reporters in Geneva, a WFP spokesperson, Elisabeth Byrs, said the UN food agency expects to reach 35,000 displaced people by midweek, and, wherever possible, it will deliver food directly into the hands of refugee camp committees.

Byrs added that all food supplies were dispatched predominantly by boat, as this was the most practical way of reaching most of the affected populations. At least 12 separate boatloads have been completed, she said, and in areas with shallow waters, WFP has used smaller boats to reach the displaced.

At least 89 people have been killed and 35,000 displaced since the upsurge of inter-communal violence a fortnight ago, and more than 5,300 houses and religious buildings have been destroyed, according to UN estimates.

Byrs also said that WFP urgently requires US $11 million to cover six months’ food needs of 100,000 displaced people in Rakhine State, as well as to ensure that food can be purchased now and delivered in time.

“Without a strong, immediate donor response, WFP would be forced to start cutting rations to the displaced by December,” she said, adding that the agency will continue to work closely with the Burmese authorities and local governments to ensure access to the most vulnerable populations.

The UN announcement came after Geneva-based Médecins Sans Frontières released a statement on Monday claiming that its medical teams were being prevented from treating people in Rakhine State. See:

Meanwhile, the humanitarian news service IRIN reported on Tuesday that thousands of ethnic Rohingyas in Burma and Bangladesh may “take to the high seas and head to Malaysia” following renewed clashes between the Muslim community and Rakhine Buddhists in the region.

“The risk factor is certainly there,” Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy organization for the Rohingya, told IRIN. “Many [Rohingya] simply feel they have no other choice. Bangladesh has closed its borders so there is no other escape.”

“More people are getting on boats to get to Malaysia,” Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said. “This year might be one of the largest sailing seasons [of Rohingya refugees going to Malaysia from the two countries].”

According to UNHCR, more than 24,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers are currently residing in Malaysia.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 November 2012 15:17 )  

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