Mohamed Zakir* and Fowzia* and their three children are just one of the million Rohingya people living in this giant camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. We sit together on a mat on the floor of their home and listen to their stories of sadness. Mohamed and Fowzia lost three of their young children - two sons and a daughter - when they were fired upon as they fled across the river in a fishing boat. The vessel capsized and sank. Only one of their children’s bodies was recovered.
Mohamed Zakir is a broken man, his troubled eyes remain glazed as he speaks. He admits in his own words that he feels “numb and empty.” And to compound their loss, the five of them who survived are now “left with nothing”.
The struggles of people like Mohamed Zahir and Fowzia who call this place home are countless. They live side by side with strangers, share washing and latrine facilities, and rely on fortnightly food aid distributions. They have few belongings, no land of their own, and have limited means to earn a living.
It is a precarious existence. One young mum tearfully confides in us that she sells a portion of her food rations - rice, lentils and oil - to buy fuel to enable her to cook what remains. Her survival depends on impossible choices that no one should ever be forced to make.
Humanitarian relief agencies like Concern Worldwide also face many challenges. The infrastructure is basic. Access by road to distant camps is difficult, and houses built on steep hillsides are only reachable by foot across makeshift bridges and up hand-dug steps reinforced with bamboo and sand bags.
Buildings are also vulnerable to the wind and rain. After our heartbreaking family visit, we walk downhill to one of Concern’s eight nutrition outpatient centres which is being rebuilt a few metres away from the original because of flooding. Standards are important to Concern so it is vital that our buildings are safe and secure if our work to screen and treat malnourished children is to continue. The roofs of other nutrition centres on higher ground have to be routinely tied down with rope to withstand damaging monsoon storms.
In this challenging environment, the local government and agencies are providing the essentials - shelter, food and nutrition support, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, protection and health care. But more than that, they are also helping to ‘normalise’ life for those displaced.