New Rohingya Arrivals In Bangladesh At Risk From Poor Diets

Published January 5, 2018

COX’S BAZAR – A new study shows that although more than 90 percent of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have received emergency food assistance, a major concern is limited access to a well-diversified and balanced diet.


The Rohingya Emergency Vulnerability Assessment (REVA) was carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Food Security Sector partners in November and December 2017. More than 2,000 families were interviewed to understand the priority needs of refugees and host communities. Households were asked about their diet, expenditure on food and other items, and what measures they resorted to in order to feed family members, amongst other things.

With more than 656,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh from Myanmar since 25 August 2017, on top of a previous refugee community of around 300,000 people, the food security situation in Cox’s Bazar is extremely precarious. WFP is providing food and food vouchers to more than 700,000 refugees.

Country Director Christa Rader explained: “WFP will scale up its e-voucher programs in 2018 to reach new arrivals in Cox’s Bazar. Food vouchers for refugees make sense on all levels: it leads to more nutritious diets, it empowers women, and in the long run, it costs less than distributing actual food.”

The study highlights that people who receive e-vouchers have a better-quality diet than those who do not, and in response WFP will scale up this programme in 2018. Currently, some 90,000 people are enrolled in WFP’s e-voucher programs, under which they receive a monthly amount on a pre-paid debit card which can be used in allocated shops to buy 19 different foods, including rice, lentils, fresh vegetables, chillies, eggs and dry fish.

By contrast, WFP’s food distributions to the new arrivals is rice, vegetable oil and lentils – an emergency ration designed to provide basic calories, but lacking in dietary diversity. Women are the receivers of the e-voucher card for each family, they can then take decisions on what to buy and how to allocate the assistance provided among family members. In light of the very high levels of acute malnutrition according to surveys conducted in October and November, WFP is also providing nutrition support to children under five years of age and pregnant and breast-feeding women.

The study also recommends the scaling up of livelihood support programmes within host communities prioritizing especially women who have no income. Similarly, the study advises that refugees in the camps should be given the opportunity to earn cash in order to reduce their economic vulnerability. Also, the study advocates for the scaling-up of services and the distribution of non-food items to meet other basic needs, including improving the access firewood and drinking water meeting minimum quality standards.


  • Overall, it is estimated that at least 80 percent of the overall refugee population are relying on life-saving assistance. The most vulnerable include: members of large families, single mothers, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and households headed by a woman especially among host communities.
  • Due to the massive scale-up of food assistance over the past months, about 70 percent of households interviewed had an “acceptable” food consumption, meaning they were able to meet their minimum dietary needs, with no significant difference between refugees and host communities. Only 45 percent of non-beneficiary refugees had an “acceptable” food consumption. Families of refugees benefitting from the WFP e-vouchers show the highest dietary diversity.
  • Low income and financial resources are the main driver of overall vulnerability to food insecurity, especially among the refugees. Three out of four refugees are economically vulnerable, against about one in five households among Bangladeshi host communities.
  • A large proportion of the refugees are largely relying on external assistance. Among the new arrivals, more than half would not be able to afford the minimum food requirements.
  • Many of the new arrivals have resorted to negative coping strategies such as spending their savings. Once these resources are exhausted, the situation could further deteriorate.
  • Refugees are facing serious health risks. Around 80 percent of households reported at least one of their family members being sick over the past month. The use of drinkable water not meeting the minimum quality standards is one of the underlying causes.
  • The main constraints reported by the new arrivals are lack of cash, food, poor shelter, lack of clothes and insufficient firewood. Firewood is the main cooking fuel for more than 90 percent of the families interviewed.
  • Host communities in the area are among the poorest in Bangladesh. They largely depend on casual labour income and are impacted by higher food prices and increased competition in the labour market caused by the refugee influx.

The full REVA report can be downloaded here.

Images of the WFP E- voucher scheme and Food Assistance shops can be downloaded here.

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WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.

For more information please contact:
Shelley Thakral, WFP/Cox’s Bazar, Mob. +88 01755642150
Maherin Ahmed, WFP/Dhaka, Mob. +88 01755642160