HUNDREDS of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar are at risk of injury, death, and further displacement when the monsoon season hits the region in the coming weeks, aid agencies warn.
Military crackdowns and escalating human-rights abuses in Myanmar last August forced about one million Rohingya people to abandon their homes and cross the border into Bangladesh (News, 15 September). Most of this group reside in camps in the city of Cox’s Bazar — the largest refugee settlement in the world.
Now, however, flooding, landslides, and cyclones are expected to destroy the temporary shelters there, putting thousands of lives at risk. They include makeshift tarpaulin shelters, 25,000 of which are located on steep, sandy slopes at the highest risk of landslides.
The United Nations has appealed for urgent financial support. “We cannot wait for funding to come in after the emergency is over and possibly preventable tragedies have occurred,” the senior operations co-ordinator for the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), in the city of Cox’s Bazar, John McCue, said.
“We need to be able to act now if lives are to be saved.”
Christian Aid is among the humanitarian aid agencies who have been supporting the Rohingya people since the crisis in Myanmar broke out. The charity has been working with local partners and aid agencies on the ground to train the communities in the Jamtoli camp to upgrade the fragile tents that they have been living in since their arrival.
This includes training in how to lay stronger foundations, tie down roofs, raise plinths, and create barriers with sandbags. Christian Aid workers have also started distributing 15,500 shelter and toolkits, in addition to the emergency-shelter kits given to 10,000 families after the emergency broke out.
“We are relocating as many people out of the danger zones as we can, and teaching people how to strengthen the shelters against the heavy rains and the cyclones that will no doubt come,” the regional emergency manager for Christian Aid in South Asia, Ram Kishan, said.
“People have lived through hell to get to the safety of the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Several have been left traumatised by what they have witnessed, and by the treacherous journey they have had to make. Conditions are cramped, and life is already very difficult. Now they are going to be hit with further heartache unless we can help them in time.”
Heavy rain has already begun to fall, Save the Children has reported. Its media and communications manager in Cox’s Bazar, Daphnee Cook, said last week: “As we feared, this first deluge is already wreaking havoc in the camps, with a number of low-lying areas flooded and access made much more difficult.
“Not only are they facing grim conditions in overcrowded refugee camps, where they rely on food rations to survive, but now they have to worry about dangerous storms, heavy rains, and the risk of flooding and landslides, as well as an increased likelihood of outbreaks of disease.”