Damage and fear caused by the first rains of the monsoon season in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are an ominous warning of what is to come. Oxfam’s Rohingya Response Advocacy Manager Dorothy Sang gives her first-hand account of the conditions in the camps.
“The rain started Thursday last week when I was traveling to Kutapalong camp, with a downpour that lasted for only an hour. Even with this relatively small amount of rain, our vehicle was soon bogged in the mud, along with many other vehicles full of aid workers and supplies on the way into the camp,” Ms. Sang said.
“People started frantically laying bricks to help to get the cars moving. A tree was blown down across the road at another point and there were reports of minor flooding and damage to Rohingya shelters. This was after just one hour of rain, and from June to September we expect days of continuous rain. It is expected that a massive 100 inches of rain could fall in just three months."
The UN is warning that anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 Rohingya refugees are living in flimsy shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins in areas that could be damaged by floods and landslides.
“The camps urgently need to be expanded to give safe and viable options for the relocation of refugees in at-risk areas. There are grave concerns that floods or a landslide could cut vulnerable people off from accessing key drinking water sources and aid distributions, which could be fatal for pregnant women, elderly or disabled people, and children," continued Ms. Sang.
“Heavy rain will also quickly transform some of the low-lying areas of the Rohingya camps into flooded and unhealthy swamp areas that will likely lead to deadly water-borne disease outbreaks. Once we start treating people with symptoms such as severe diarrhea, it is already too late. What we need is a focus now on the prevention of disease outbreaks, which Oxfam is working on with our local partners and the refugees themselves. This is being done through public health promotion – hand washing and toilet cleaning trainings, and health information – the desludging of pit toilets at risk of flooding and by providing clean drinking water on a mass scale.
“Over the next few months, the Rohingya people will be on the front line of responding to these further emergencies and Oxfam is helping them learn how to protect themselves and their families. Women I met last week were extremely worried about how their shelters would cope as the monsoon rain and wind worsened. They said that some people had already starting moving to stay with friends in areas of the camp that they felt were safer. Whether they are fully aware of the dangers the coming monsoon season brings, and adequately prepared to meet them, remains to be seen.
“But the women were also so thankful for the relative safety of the Bangladeshi camps, one woman said while sharing her concerns that at least there was no shooting outside her shelter. But, the scale of the crisis is huge and the humanitarian response hasn’t been able to keep pace."
The Government of Bangladesh has decades of experience dealing with monsoon flooding but this will be the first time they are going through the monsoon season while also supporting almost one million Rohingya refugees.
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