Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in squalid, flood-prone camps in western Myanmar after fleeing communal unrest face "imminent danger" from looming monsoon rains, the UN warned on Friday.
An estimated 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have languished in insanitary camps since violence flared last year with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, leaving scores dead and whole neighbourhoods in ruins.
They "are now in imminent danger of yet another tragedy when the monsoon rains hit.... We must act immediately to prevent a predictable tragedy," said John Ging of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
With the monsoon expected to start in May, Ging called on the government to release new land for camps and to help rebuild shattered community relations, highlighted by the deadly outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar this month.
"The gravity and urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. Community and religious leaders also have a major role in promoting a culture of peace and mutual respect in multicultural and multi-ethnic Myanmar," he added.
Ging's comments follow allegations by rights groups that humanitarian aid to the Rohingya is being restricted by Myanmar's authorities.
Curbs on relief to the camps are creating a "crisis that will become a disaster when the rainy season arrives," according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Myanmar's leaders "seem intent on keeping the Rohingya segregated in camps rather than planning for them to return to their homes", he said, adding heavy rains are likely to spread waterborne diseases among vulnerable camp residents.
Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders has said a lack of clean drinking water in the camps has caused skin infections, worms, chronic coughing and diarrhoea while many malnourished people are going without urgent medical care.
Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar in recent months on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
The country's non-Rohingya Muslims have been targeted by violence led by Buddhist mobs in central Myanmar since March 20.
At least 40 people have been killed and mosques burned in several towns, prompting the government to impose emergency rule and curfews in some areas.