Damage and fear caused by the first rains of the monsoon season in the Rohingya refugee camps are an ominous warning of what is to come, Oxfam said today.
Oxfam’s Rohingya Response Advocacy Manager Dorothy Sang said the worst was still to come when the monsoon season hits Bangladesh with full ferocity from late May to September.
“The rain started last week when I was travelling to Kutupalong camp, with a downpour that lasted for only an hour,” Ms Sang said. “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.
“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 – from June to September we expect days of continuous rain. It is expected a massive eight feet (two and a half metres) 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,” Ms Sang said. “There are grave concerns floods or 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.
“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 diarrhoea, 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 de-sludging of pit toilets at risk of flooding and by providing clean drinking water on a mass scale.
“Over the next few months, the Rohingya refugees 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 monsoonal 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 women said while sharing her concerns that at least there was no shooting outside her shelter.”
The Government of Bangladesh has decades of experience dealing with monsoonal flooding, but this will be the first time they are going through the monsoon season while also supporting almost one million Rohingya refugees.
“The scale of the crisis is huge and the humanitarian response has struggled to keep pace,” Ms Sang said
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