Rohingya refugees unprepared as monsoon rains, flooding and landslides continue
The monsoon rains falling on the Rohingya refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh, have caused over 130 landslides, damaged 3,300 shelters and affected 28,000 refugees, Oxfam said.
A survey of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh carried out by Oxfam before the start of the monsoon season found that more than half were almost completely unprepared for the floods, landslides and disease that accompany the monsoon weather, with women most at risk.
Gabriela Luz-Meillet, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Programme Coordinator in Bangladesh, said: “The monsoon rains are causing flooding, landslides and disease outbreaks in the Rohingya refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in temporary shelters, on hills of compacted mud which are completely shorn of protective trees and plants. Those hills could melt into the earth. There are refugees alive today who will not make it through to the end of the rainy season.
“Oxfam is working with the government of Bangladesh and the United Nations to relocate refugees to safer areas and to make the remaining areas as weather-proof as possible. It is a race against time. We are doing what we can but there aren’t enough safe areas for all the refugees who need to move, so it is vital those who remain in danger know what to do in an emergency.”
Luz-Meillet said refugees could anticipate and prepare for the severe impacts of a monsoon in their homes in Myanmar. However now they had fled to Bangladesh they were struggling to deal with the weather.
“Most of the refugees come from small villages where they know how to deal with extreme weather. But now they are living in a huge tent city, disorientated and scared, and they are telling us that they lack the knowledge and resources to survive in this strange new environment. Women are in greater danger than men. They are frequently confined to their homes and do not know how to find shelter or to get help.
“We need to ensure that refugees get the information and resources that they need so they can deal with the bad weather and its consequences. Everyone working on the response needs to consult refugees so they can feel in control of their own lives. Everyone working in the camps is doing their best but we need to make sure that this response meets both the needs of the Rohingya and international humanitarian standards. Work on the ground should be matched by diplomatic efforts by the governments of Bangladesh, Myanmar and others to find long-term solutions for the Rohingya people. We cannot allow these people to endure another monsoon in these dangerous conditions in the camp.”
Oxfam surveyed residents of the refugee camps in Bangladesh and found that 59% of women and 53% of men do not know how to ensure the safety and security of their families during and after a disaster.
Only around a quarter of refugees surveyed know where the nearest shelter is in case of a cyclone warning, with two thirds of women unaware of its location. Amongst men, 38% of men do not know the whereabouts of a shelter and 34% say there is no shelter.
Oxfam also ran a series of focus groups. All the groups told researchers that their shelters will be unable to withstand the rains, were concerned they couldn’t stockpile food and firewood, and felt reliant on aid agencies. Many thought they would be cut off by the rains and unable to access help, and the female groups feared struggling to feed their families should this occur.
Since last August a camp the size of a small city has been created from scratch, and the scale of the crisis has meant that resources have been mostly focused on the day-to-day efforts needed to supply nearly a million people with food, water, shelter and other life-saving goods.
A total of 200,000 out of over 900,000 refugees are categorized as at risk from flooding and landslides, with around 24,000 of those considered at high risk. So far nearly 25,000 refugees have been relocated to freshly prepared, flattened ground that should be safe from landslides and flooding. Oxfam has worked on water and sanitation facilities in these new areas for around 1500 people.
To ensure that refugees are getting timely information and can also provide feedback, Oxfam has set up user groups for those who rely upon its water and sanitation services. These groups solve problems themselves, and strengthen ties and trust between refugees, helping to keep the whole community safe.
Oxfam is supporting the United Nations in the Ukhia “mega camp”, building water and sanitation infrastructure in two out of five new, safer zones. It is also decommissioning and cleaning as many of the full latrines as possible, and building new, longer-lasting latrines.
Oxfam is building deep tube wells that won’t be polluted by dirty ground water, and, in the southern Teknaf camp it has built a large ground water treatment plant that will provide nearly 350,000L of drinking water a day. The agency has also been working with refugee communities on hygiene measures to prevent the spread of disease.
Oxfam has emergency response teams ready should a cyclone, heavy rain or a disease outbreak hit the camps where it works. It plans to restore water supplies and distribute soap, shelter equipment and other essentials. Oxfam supports food shops in the camp with a voucher scheme for refugees and is working with food vendors from the local community to ensure that they can still supply the camps in an emergency.