COVID-19 and extreme weather events threaten to roll back gains in Rohingya camps despite early success in tackling the virus
COVID-19 compromises the fragile gains made over the past three years
BANGLADESH, 24 AUGUST 2020 – The global death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed 800,000 as confirmed cases surged past 23 million, with Bangladesh overtaking Pakistan to become 15th on the list of countries with the most COVID-19 patients. While the country has crossed a grim milestone, there are so far fewer causalities in the densely-populated Rohingya camps that have been and still are considered one of the most vulnerable places to the ongoing pandemic.
As of now, COVID-19 situation across the camps has been tackled somewhat successfully. However, the apparent success in keeping the virus away should not hide the fact that the risks of a COVID-19 outbreak in the camps remain very high. Despite taking all the preventative measures, it cannot fully alleviate the very difficult conditions continually present in the camps.
A coordinated approach by the Bangladesh government, UN organizations, and NGOs including CARE has yielded results. CARE is currently responsible for co-managing three camps (Camp 13, 14 , and 16) under the supervision of Camp-in-Charge (CIC) appointed by the government.
As an early responder, CARE intervened to ensure that the Rohingya population and the host community members had access to life saving and essential services to fight COVID-19. CARE continued with services related to health, water and sanitation, and gender based violence. Community engagement sessions were also organized to bring together women, girls, men and boys as well as community level actors to create awareness on prevention and control methods for COVID-19. Staff and community volunteers are being trained on infection prevention and control (IPC) to strengthen knowledge and skills on safe delivery of response package at all levels.
Along with a COVID-19 response from March 2020, CARE has implemented a number of programs to reach 334,227 people in the past three years. CARE especially targeted the most vulnerable groups like the elderly, sick, caregivers and people with disabilities to offer life-saving services. While establishing over 1,000 gender-segregated latrines in camps, a total of 91 accessible latrines were constructed for families with persons with disability. "Previously, the latrine I had to use was 20 feet away from my house. I used to face a lot of difficulties them," shared Bashir who is 17 and visually impaired.
Apart from working with health, water, sanitation, protection and gender-based violence, CARE has also worked on nutrition issues extensively. CARE provided training and capacity building support to 11 partner organizations responsible for implementing community based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM). Over 2,000 staff members from these agencies were trained to provide CMAM services across 29 out of 34 Rohingya camps.
However, COVID-19 threatens to roll back gains made on nutrition in the camps as access to food supplies, income and diverse diets become more limited. According to Nutrition Sector, progress has been made since the onset of the crisis in August 2017, when over 700,000 Rohingya people fled from Myanmar seeking shelter and safety in Bangladesh. Global acute malnutrition among children under five has been reduced from 19.3% in 2017 to 10.9% in 2019. It is evident that COVID-19 compromises the fragile gains made over the past three years.
Aside from COVID-19, people living in the camps also face the threat of cyclones and landslides during the monsoon period; usually between June and October. The conditions in the camps have made Rohingya communities at particular risk of disasters. The strain on services, infrastructure, and the environment from the influx of persons into the camps has also increased the vulnerability. The exposure of these communities to extreme weather events would exacerbate already existing needs and vulnerabilities, especially for women and children, persons with disabilities, and elderly persons.
"Close to a million Rohingya refugees are living in highly overcrowded camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. So far, with the collective effort of all humanitarian agencies and the government, we have been able to limit the spread of COVID-19 successfully. However, the risk still remains and we need to keep working with the communities on food and nutrition security, creating health awareness while reinforcing our disaster preparedness activity," said Ram Das, Deputy Country Director, Humanitarian Response of CARE Bangladesh.
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About CARE Canada:
Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.
To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca