“Take a bite,” Sufiya Begum tells her 18-month-old daughter, Romina Khatun. Romina is eating special food because she has not eaten enough healthy food. The condition is called malnutrition.
Begum brings her daughter to a Save the Children nutrition center in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, once a week for an examination. There, the workers check Romina’s weight and height. They measure around her upper arm. About 11 percent of children younger than 5 in the Rohingya refugee camps have some form of malnutrition.
The rate is better than it was in 2017, when the figure was almost 20 percent. But it is still not acceptable. The United Nations’ children’s agency, UNICEF, says children with severe acute malnutrition are at 10 times greater risk of dying than those with normal food intake. Plus, even moderate malnutrition can block normal growth.
Joseph Senesie is a UNICEF nutrition expert. He explains why a good diet is important.
“From pregnancy until the child is two years of age, that's 1,000 days, if the child is not fed well, and the child’s brain will not develop well.”
Brain development affects the child’s educational progress and, later, job possibilities.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have escaped to southern Bangladesh from neighboring Myanmar since August 2017. They fled a Burmese military campaign against them that U.N. investigators described as “genocidal” in aim.
Myanmar denies the accusations. It says its operation was to answer attacks by Rohingya militants.
The 1 million Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar make up the largest refugee camp in the world. The refugees depend on humanitarian aid for basic needs.
At 85 nutrition centers across the camps, workers examine children and, in case of severe malnutrition, give them special food full of protein, vitamins and minerals. The food “gives a lot of energy and other minerals that make corrections” for the lack, says Mohammad Ruhul Amin of Save the Children.
Their families are given more of the food to take home for the children to eat between their weekly visits to the center.
Zainab Bibi is the mother of an 11-month-old boy. She says, “Now we’re getting help with nutrition and my son is healthier and he seems happier too.” There was major improvement within three weeks. Bibi says that is because he is getting the special food and she is getting lessons on nutrition and cleanliness. The lessons are for mothers and expecting-mothers.
Amin says, “We hope these lessons can prevent more children from ever becoming malnourished.”
There are fruit and vegetable stands in the camps, but many families cannot buy food because they have no money. For many refugees, that means just rice and lentils.
“Rice and lentils are not a balanced diet,” Amin says. “He says it is important to eat a mix of foods.
For many refugees, that is not possible yet. Now, about one-third of the refugees are in families that get electronic cards with a monthly credit from UNICEF. They use the cards at food markets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. The U.N.’s World Food Program expects all of the families to have the cards by the end of the year.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Dave Grunebaum reported on this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
acute – adj. very serious or dangerous: requiring serious attention or action
diet – n. the food that a person or animal usually eats
malnutrition - n. the unhealthy condition that results from not eating enough food or not eating enough healthy food; poor nutrition
lentil – n. a type of flat, round seed
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