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Monsoon arrives, bringing new dangers for weary refugees

Our Bangladesh team have reported that tens of thousands of Rohingya families sheltering in the deforested hills of Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh are in imminent danger from the monsoon rains, which have just started. One assessment, carried out by the UNHCR and Dhaka University, suggests the risk of landslides and flooding could directly impact over 100,000 people.

Rohingya refugees in the rain at a camp in Cox’s Bazar.

Monsoon and cyclones

Desperate efforts are under way to put flood defenses in place and to provide safer ground in the sprawling refugee camps for some of the most vulnerable families. The monsoon, of which the first rains began this week, can bring enormous amounts of rain and  winds of up to 90mph, threatening the integrity of the shelters. Tropical cyclones, the term used for hurricanes in the Indian and South Pacific oceans, can cause even greater damage. Concern first set up operations in Bangladesh following a deadly cyclone in 1970, which reportedly killed over 500,000 people and left millions homeless.

A desperate effort is under way in the camps to reinforce shelters in preparation for the monsoon rains.

World's biggest

There are currently 865,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, most having fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar in August and September of last year. A repatriation deal was signed between the two governments in November, but has essentially stalled. Several camps, including what is now the world’s biggest refugee settlement area at Kutapalong and Balukhali, sit on sand-and-clay hills stripped bare of trees. Landslides are a major danger, along with the risk of water-borne diseases, as makeshift latrines are likely to flood and collapse among the bamboo and tarpaulin huts.

Monsoon rains pose many problems for Rohingya refugees, including landslides and disease.

Preparations

Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, said attempts were ongoing to stabilize slopes, using sandbags and other techniques, while residents were being helped to fortify homes and making waterways to channel the excess water. He added that new a 700-800 acre site was being developed to the west, on more suitable ground.  In 1991, Cyclone Gorky killed 139,000 people in the cities of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong, and left another 10 million people homeless.

Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar move through a camp in the rain.

Concern getting ready

Concern has been playing a key role in supporting displaced Rohingya families, operating seven emergency nutrition centers across a number of camps, with an eighth under construction. To date, nearly 40,000 acutely malnourished under-5 children have been treated at these centers. The emergency response team is busy reinforcing structures, sandbagging, and building drainage canals and has stockpiled extensive supplies in advance of the monsoon season.

There is a sense of helplessness...however, we remain focused

Lucia Ennis, Concern’s Regional Director for Asia, says “There is a sense of helplessness due to the magnitude and the implications of the incoming cyclone season. However we remain focused in activating its emergency response plan for scale up and adapting the existing response systems, working closely with various other organizations and communities on the ground”.

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Originally published on our sister website Concern Worldwide U.S

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