''I was expecting the displaced persons camps to be grim - but I wasn't prepared to see children starving to death. This isn't journalistic hyperbole. Thousands of kids are starving to death.''
Concerns about children dying in camps come as ethnic cleansing in Burma forces teenage boys and men to take to the sea in barely seaworth vessels to sail past Phuket seeking sanctuary.
The nightmare of malnutrition, deaths at sea and possibly genocide is taking place on what, in a small world, can be categorised as Phuket's doorstep.
NOW this media release comes from UNICEF:
UNICEF scales-up response, calls for stronger combat against child malnutrition in Rakhine State
Rakhine State - While precise information about nutrition levels in Rakhine State is still difficult to obtain, UNICEF is very concerned about the extent and severity of child malnutrition, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict.
Child nutrition levels were not good prior to the outbreak of the Rakhine conflict in June, and subsequent population displacement and the security situation has hampered access to affected children.
UNICEF is scaling up its ongoing efforts to reach children across ethnic lines in need with life-saving nutrition interventions.
''We are working with the government and other partners for unabated access and for additional funding to address the key issue of child malnutrition in the Rakhine state to reverse the risk faced by the children affected by conflict,'' said UNICEF Representative Bertrand Bainvel.
On November 20, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma has launched an additional US$41 million Revised Response Plan for Rakhine. The Revised Plan will support urgent humanitarian aid to 115,000 internally displaced persons, living in camps with little or no access to basic services, up till June 2013.
A joint rapid nutrition assessment, carried out in Sittwe in early July indicated a 23.4 percent prevalence of Global and 7.5 percent of Severe Acute Malnutrition in the locations where displaced people are congregated.
Findings indicated that some 2000 acutely malnourished children were facing a high risk of mortality, with 650 of these children in a severe condition and in urgent need of therapeutic feeding, and an additional nearly 9000 children in need of micronutrient supplements.
A further 2500 children were likely to develop acute malnutrition if adequate food, healthcare and water and sanitation was not provided.
UNICEF has been working with the Government and partners to examine the nutritional status of children in Sittwe, both to confirm the initial estimates of the severity of the situation and to ensure that those in need receive help as a matter of priority.
In late October, of 4066 children examined using the Middle and Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measurement screening method, 413 were found to be severely acute malnourished and 649 moderately malnourished.
All these children were treated but they require ongoing nutritional support and UNICEF expects there are more children in similar situations that have not yet been identified and reached.
In response to the situation, UNICEF, through the State Health Department, provided Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food and supplementary food for 6-59 months old children along with micronutrient supplements and continued to promote young child feeding practices including breastfeeding and complementary feeding.
At the point when the second outbreak of unrest broke out in Rakhine in October, expert estimates suggested around 2900 acutely malnourished children were at high risk of mortality; 930 of these children were in severe condition that required therapeutic feeding and some 2000 children were suffering from Moderate Acute Malnutrition and in need of supplementary feeding.
A further 12,000 children aged 6-59 months old and some 5,400 pregnant and lactating women were in need of micronutrient supplementation. Some challenges in terms of access still exist, with 29 percent of IDP population still unreachable by partners as of October.
More resources are urgently needed to continue and strengthen the nutrition response including for assessments, case identification, referral, monitoring and surveillance.
Therapeutic feeding must be provided urgently to save the lives of 930 severely acute malnourished children identified thus far and urgent supplementary feeding is needed for the 2000 moderately malnourished children is essential to stop them from falling into severe acute malnutrition.
Micronutrient supplement must be provided to a further 5400 pregnant and lactating women and 12,400 under-five children to avoid serious malnutrition deficiency and the risk of consequent mortality.
The various organisations working to provide nutrition aid estimate that to respond to the need of a total of 115,000 IDPs for one year, total funding of some US$1.28 million is required . With around $400,000 already secured by partners, the immediate nutrition funding gap is $880,000.
Over the past decades UNICEF adopted a community-based nutrition intervention approach to address persistent child malnutrition in Rakhine, the second poorest state in Myanmar, in the host communities as well as in the displaced population.
The already vulnerable situation was exacerbated by ethnic conflict that started in June this year.
UNICEF is committed to supporting the health, education, protection rights and prospects of all children in Rakhine State and across Myanmar, based on its humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.
UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org