COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh -- Looming cuts to food aid will have a "devastating" effect on the estimated million Rohingya living in sprawling Bangladeshi refugee camps, community leaders from the stateless minority said Saturday.
The UN World Food Programme announced Friday it would cut back its assistance for the first time since a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar that drove huge numbers of Rohingya out of their homes and across the border.
Monthly food vouchers would be cut from $12 to $10 per person from March to make up for a $125 million donor shortfall, the agency said, adding that further ration cuts were also "imminent" without an immediate funding boost.
"We understand that the world's attention towards the Rohingya is decreasing," Sayedullah, a Rohingya community leader living in the camps, told AFP.
"But the latest decision by WFP will pave the way for a humanitarian crisis in the camps."
Salimullah, another civil society leader, said the ration cut would exacerbate crime in the camps, with women and children suffering the most.
"This will be a devastating blow," he told AFP. "There will be a rise in terrorism, drug and human trafficking."
The 2017 crackdown in Myanmar -- now the subject of a UN genocide investigation -- sent around 750,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh with harrowing stories of murder, rape and arson.
Bangladesh has struggled to support its immense refugee population and the prospects of a wholesale return to Myanmar or resettlement elsewhere are remote.
Rohingya living in the camps around Cox's Bazar are not allowed to seek employment and are almost entirely dependent on limited humanitarian aid to survive.
WFP said nearly one in eight Rohingya children were already acutely malnourished, while 40 percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women were anaemic.
Large numbers of refugees have attempted hazardous sea crossings in an effort to find a better life away from the camps, including more than 2,000 people last year, according to the UN refugee agency.
It estimated nearly 200 Rohingya had died or went missing last year during such voyages.
"Rohingya children and their families are at breaking point and need more support, not less," Onno Van Manen of Save the Children said in a statement.
"We are hearing reports of increasing hunger and malnutrition, as well as child marriage and child labour... and families are increasingly risking their lives at sea to seek a life beyond their refugee camp."