Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, known for the world's longest natural beach, honeymooners, and fresh seafood, is also home to the world's largest refugee camp. In August 2017, thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing violence and persecution. They joined the more than 200,000 Rohingya who had fled years before. Today, six years on, almost one million Rohingya refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival, living a fragile existence in overcrowded camps. 


A collage featuring Concern Worldwide staff members in Bangladesh

Last month, I spent the day with Concern's team in these camps. Concern Bangladesh delivers essential nutrition and livelihood programs in the area, operating 16 integrated nutrition centers - reaching over 150,000 people in the camps and nearby local communities and families learning innovative ways to grow vegetables in highly congested living quarters.   

With no open spaces in the congested camps, Concern's homestead garden project helps families grow vegetables on roofs, between shelters, and in sacks filled with soil. And it's catching on - families across the camp supplement their diet and income with freshly grown vegetables.  

In Camp 15, which has over 50,000 people - 4,762 children under 5 are screened and treated by our nutrition team every month, along with regular checkups for more than 2,000 pregnant women. The center is a hive of activity with brightly painted murals dedicated to nutrition screening, medical checkups, psycho-social counseling, cooking demonstrations, and a child's play area. Amongst the seemingly desperate living conditions of the camp, the center is a bright light, a welcoming place for mothers and their children to heal, recover, learn, and grow stronger.   

However, this recovery is now under serious threat. The Rohingya response in Bangladesh is experiencing a severe funding crisis, with only 29.6% of the UN's Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 funded to date.   

As of June 1st, the monthly food vouchers that the refugees rely on from the World Food Program were reduced for the second time in three months - a 33% reduction in the daily ration. With the food voucher now valued at USD 8 per month – people are now expected to survive off 10 cents per meal. A complete pipeline break is anticipated by October if no additional funding is pledged. Parents are already eating less or skipping meals so their children can eat. With one in eight children already acutely malnourished, further cuts will be catastrophic and deadly.   

New cuts in lifesaving assistance come when Rohingya refugees are recovering from the devastating impacts of Cyclone Mocha and fires that spread through the camps earlier this year, leaving thousands in distress. Crisis after crisis has pushed people to the breaking point.  

The Rohingya refugee crisis made headlines briefly in 2017, but this crisis is still alive and requires the immediate support of the international community. Concern warns that further cuts will rapidly undermine the progress to stabilize the health and nutrition of some 400,000 children in the camps. Less food will increase desperation, malnutrition, and crime rates and force more families to consider perilous boat journeys. No one should be forced to live this way or make these choices just to survive.