GENEVA - The biggest waste facility ever built in a refugee settlement has begun operating in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees. The U.N. refugee agency, which is funding the project, reports the treatment plant can process the human waste of 150,000 people every day.
More than 750,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Cox's Bazar since August 2017 to escape persecution and violence by Myanmar's military in Northern Rakhine State. Thousands of other Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh during previous periods of repression in Myanmar.
This huge population generates an enormous amount of human waste in the congested settlements, where limited land is available suitable for latrine pits and waste water treatment.
U.N. refugee spokesman Andre Mahecic said managing the waste in this terrain requires an innovative approach. He calls the new waste treatment facility a major step toward resolving this problem.
"The ability to treat large volumes of waste on site, rather than having to transport it elsewhere, is a critical step to safe and sustainable disposal of such waste in emergency situations. This will significantly reduce health risks for refugees and host communities alike and the likelihood of outbreak of diseases," he said.
For example, he notes more than 200,000 cases of acute diarrhea were reported in the Rohingya camps last year. In addition, he says people are suffering from respiratory infections and skin diseases like scabies as a result of the unhygienic conditions.
Mahecic tells VOA UNHCR plans to roll out similar treatment facilities at other sites to ultimately deal with all of the waste being produced on a daily basis.
"The point of this is also that the end result is safe, that there will be also bio-gas production as part of that and whatever remains is made neutral in such a way that it in no way can damage human health."
Mahecic said Bangladeshi authorities have provided the site for the waste facility. He said engineers from UNHCR and the British charity, OXFAM, with support from Rohingya refugees, built the new site in just over seven months.
He said the initial cost of developing the site, installing the equipment, operating and maintaining the facility is just under $400,000.