Tuesday 22 May 2018

Refugees face new threat as monsoon season approaches

Rohingya refugees rebuild their makeshift homes in preparation for the approaching monsoon season at the Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong. Photo: AP
Rohingya refugees rebuild their makeshift homes in preparation for the approaching monsoon season at the Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong. Photo: AP

Susannah Savage

AID agencies have warned that Rohingya Muslims living in Bangladesh's squalid refugee camps are facing yet more destruction and death due to an impending monsoon.

Since August last year, 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Rakhine state in Myanmar, where, as a Muslim minority, they were persecuted by the Myanmar army and police.

They have joined an existing population of 300,000 Rohingya refugees, who left the former Burma in earlier decades, in one of Bangladesh's poorest and most disaster-prone regions.

Conditions in the overcrowded camps are precarious, with little access to clean water and disease rife. Now the camps risk being wiped out altogether by the monsoon season.

"The monsoon is not a one-off weather incident, but a sustained series of mini-disasters over six months," said Caroline Gluck, a spokesman for the UN's Refugee Agency in the region. Several other aid organisations are also bracing themselves for mass deaths and large-scale destruction of the camps.

Few shelters will withstand monsoon winds and rain, and large numbers of refugees could easily end up homeless, while flooding dramatically increases the risk of water contamination and diseases such as cholera.

Most of the Rohingya refugees currently cook on small open fires. "Our main worry is how we will eat," said Ojiba, a mother of three. "What will we do when all the wood is wet?"

Stoves are just a small part of the massive preparation operation being undertaken by aid organisations and the Bangladeshi government. New, deeper tube wells and latrines are being dug and the main road into the camp is being paved, to allow access if other routes are cut off.

Many fear that the response has been left too late. "Time is running out," said Ms Gluck, "the rains have already started."

Irish Independent

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