‘Myanmar should respect the needs of all of its population including the Rohingya’

Written by SM Abrar Aowsaf - Dhaka Tribune | Published on: May 11, 2018

In an interview with the Dhaka Tribune’s SM Abrar Aowsaf, World Food Programme (WFP)’s Assistant Executive Director Valerie N Guarnieri speaks about her experience while visiting the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, and her advice on addressing certain issues regarding proper management of the camps in terms of food supply, medical facilities and securing enough funds

‘Myanmar should respect the needs of all of its population including the Rohingya’
World Food Programme (WFP)’s Assistant Executive Director Valerie N Guarnieri Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Valerie N Guarnieri’s job at the WFP is to bring together and oversee essential elements of the organization’s global operations, which include emergency preparedness and response, program and policy, and nutrition and supply chain to provide necessary support to vulnerable and food insecure people around the world.

Tell us a little about what you witnessed at the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.

I was very encouraged to see how much was in place to provide services to the Rohingya refugees. I was able to witness the food assistance programs that WFP is providing to the refugees, both through direct food rations that we give to the refugees, as well as through electronic vouchers. I was happy to see that we are finding ways to feed 850,000 Rohingya refugees both directly and by linking them to the market.

I was also able to see our nutrition programs for them, the shelters, the water facilities, and the town that has been built where they can access a range of services.

On the less positive side, I have heard about how the refugees are living on slopes, and how these slopes may become very dangerous during the monsoon season. I knew I would see that but, it is very impressive in a shocking way to actually see so many people living in such a dense area and building very rudimentary shelters on such steep slopes.

What should be done to ensure the safety of these particular refugees?

We have identified about 200,000 people who need a range of interventions. There has been a major effort led by the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the WFP.

The WFP has been providing engineering support to this effort, and to see how much land has been prepared in such a short amount of time is very encouraging as we are going to try to move as many refugees as possible to this land especially those who are vulnerable to mudslides on to safer ground.

Do you have enough funds to provide sufficient food to these people?

With the generous contributions from donors that WFP has received, we have been able to scale up food assistance to all 850,000 refugees and to continue that assistance at scale up till now. Looking forward, we still need $200 million in order to continue to feed 850,000 refugees until the end of the year.

How will you secure the required funds?

We are using all means to reach out to donors to ensure that they are aware of the severity of the situation and of what we have been able to accomplish. You also need to ensure that they have confidence that we are doing what is necessary to address the situation and by feeding 850,000 refugees, by putting in the systems to make sure that this assistance can continue even through the rainy season to build confidence in the donor community to provide the support.

But one of the challenges that we have is that there are a lot of humanitarian needs around the world. So we are simultaneously trying to mobilize resources for several crises.

How will the lack of basic amenities, especially food, affect the Rohingya children’s mental and physical well-being in the long run?

What we do know is that meeting a child’s nutrient needs is absolutely essential in their early life, and in the first thousand days from conception it is absolutely critical, but also over the course of their lifetime. By providing food assistance to 850,000 refugees each month and by supporting nutrition centres where young children are treated for malnutrition but also receive a nutrition supplement to prevent malnutrition. Pregnant women and breastfeeding women also receive a nutritious supplement so that they are healthy and their babies can be healthy.
However, malnutrition does not only come from lack of food. You need to have access to nutritious food but you also need to have clean water, good sanitary conditions, and access to healthcare. The long term effects of not having all those factors in place, are critical.

In addition to basic health, ensuring the Rohingya children have access to good learning facilities, that help them develop their potential, is absolutely critical for their well-being.

What is the WFP doing to provide proper nutrition to the refugees?

We have been able to put in place a system to ensure that all registered refugees receive a monthly supply of nutritious food assistance. That includes the three commodities we provide to meet the kilocalorie requirement, ie, rice, beans and oil. Now 200,000 of the refugees are receiving their food assistance via an electronic ration that allows them to access 19 different food commodities through the market, and that gives them more diversity in their food basket.

What do you think the Rohingya should do in order survive in this crisis situations? Should they look for jobs?

It really depends on what the policy environment is, and whether they are allowed to work. Ensuring and putting in place measures that allow people to take care of themselves is an issue that needs to be addressed. In any population, including the Rohingya, people want to be able to take care of themselves and their families. We have activities underway that help people receive assistance with conditionality of work and are provided cash or food for work.

How can proper relief flow for the rest of the Rohingyas in Rakhine be ensured as there are reports of the Myanmar government not providing them with enough relief?

Just as WFP has programs in Bangladesh for both the Rohingya and the Bangladeshi people, we also have a long standing program in Myanmar. We provide food and assistance to the Rohingyas inside Myanmar. We are able to access the areas where they live and where there are constraints to access either for us or our partners, we tackle those issues directly with government of Myanmar.

Has the international community done enough to address the crisis? What more should it do?

A lot is being done to address the crisis. The international community has stepped up to provide assistance to the Rohingya people in Myanmar and in Bangladesh and needs to step up further to make sure that this assistance is continued. The international community needs to work with the governments of both Bangladesh and Myanmar to ensure that the needs of the Rohingya people are met.

What should be the role of Myanmar in helping to resolve the crisis?

It is essential that Myanmar respects the needs of all of its population including the Rohingya people, and that it provides a safe environment for the Rohingya people to return voluntarily and to live in safety and dignity.