GENEVA: Life-threatening levels of malnutrition have risen dramatically among Rohingya refugee children who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, the United Nations warned Friday.
The UN children's agency said preliminary data indicated a full 7.5 percent of the children crammed into one of the camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state since late August during military operations that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing and the world's most acute refugee crisis.
Around half of them are children.
"It's very worrying to see the condition of children who keep arriving," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva after a recent trip to the camps.
The agency and its partners are already treating more than 2,000 acutely malnourished children at 15 treatment centres, and are in the process of setting up six additional centres.
UNICEF said its preliminary findings were based on a nutrition assessment conducted last week of children under the age of five in 405 households in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.
"The Rohingya children in the camp, who have survived horrors in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State and a dangerous journey here, are already caught up in a catastrophe," UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said in a statement.
"Those with severe malnutrition are now at risk of dying from an entirely preventable and treatable cause," he warned.
Malnutrition rates among children in northern Rakhine were already above emergency thresholds before the latest crisis erupted.
"The condition of these children has further deteriorated due to the long journey across the border and the conditions in the camps," the UNICEF statement said.
Some 26,000 people now live in the Kutupalong camp, where they are faced with an acute shortage of food and water, unsanitary conditions and high rates of diarrhoea and respiratory infections, the agency said.
UNICEF said it was planning two additional assessments in other sites in Cox's Bazar this month, including at a makeshift settlement, to help determine if the numbers found in Kutupalong might apply to the entire area.
"We need far more attention to the crisis, and far more resources for the response," Beigbeder said, stressing that "these children need help right now."