GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - U.N. and international aid agencies are working around the clock to lessen the risks of flooding and landslides caused by monsoon rains in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.
Humanitarian agencies estimate 200,000 of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees that have fled to Cox’s Bazaar since August to escape violence in Myanmar are likely to be most affected by this disaster.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society Head of Emergency Operations in Cox’s Bazaar Steve McAndrew says conditions in the camps are some of the worst he has seen in 20 years with the Red Cross. He says he expects conditions to worsen as the rains continue through August.
“Already, we are starting to see some real damages in the camps. Many of the shelters are starting to collapse. Some of the roads are impassable. Latrines are starting to fill up with floodwaters. The floodwaters are breaching through pathways where people walk and kids go to school every day,” he said.
McAndrews says his agency has treated more than 130,000 patients in Red Cross health clinics, and Rohingya volunteers are carrying fecal sludge out of the camps every day to try to make them minimally live-able.
He says thousands of people have been moved from endangered shelters and more will be relocated.
“There is no real safe place in these camps. If it rains enough, the whole place will be under water and if they are not under water, it is going to be very muddy, it is going to be bad sanitation conditions and just a horrible place for you to raise your family,” said McAndrews.
World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindemeier warns threats to the refugees' well-being are likely to increase.
“As the rains, as we heard already many times are flooding the camps, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis, and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya,” he said.
Lindemeier says dozens of health facilities are being relocated to able to respond to potential disease outbreaks and mass casualty events.
The World Food Program reports it is working with partners to prepare additional land for safe relocations. It says roads are being strengthened, bridges built, embankments fortified and drainage canals cleared.
WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher says pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children are receiving a nutritional porridge.
“We have, every month, reaching around 160,000 women and children with special nutritional food at our 21 supplementary feeding centers. Kids under five are measured to see how acute malnourished they are and their parents are told why this porridge is so important to eat in addition to their regular meals,” she said.
Surveys late last year showed the refugees were 15 percent above the WHO malnutrition emergency threshold. Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee site, had acute malnutrition rates of 24 percent among children up to age five.
The agencies are appealing for support from the international community, saying the situation in Cox’s Bazaar is desperate and will become worse in the coming weeks.