(DHAKA, Bangladesh) — Heavy rains in Bangladesh threaten the lives of thousands of Myanmar refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement, leaving them vulnerable to landslides and flooding. Global humanitarian organization CARE is helping mitigate the risk with shelter, infrastructure, sanitation and health services.
The first downpour has already foreshadowed a major disaster. Field reports show that brief, heavy rains last week have already created accessibility problems in the muddy hills, turning small puddles into large pools.
The situation may worsen as the rains intensify, possibly as soon as next week. Slippery roads and puddles will be the least of the problems for refugees living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR anticipates massive landslide causalities of as many as 23,000 people and asserts that another 85,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless. Other threats include outbreaks of water-borne diseases due to flooding and limited access to health services. The government of Bangladesh, together with humanitarian aid agencies like CARE, has prioritized precautionary measures, working on relocating 100,000 refugees to safer ground.
CARE is collaborating with the government to address the situation, managing Potibonia camp (also called camp 16) with a population of 22,000 people. To reduce the risks of rain and flooding, with funding from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), CARE has begun distributing materials to upgrade shelters, including bamboo, tarps and rope. Of the 438 households at severe risk, 330 have already been relocated, and another 372 houses under moderate risk have been upgraded. To ensure ease of movement on hazardous terrain, CARE has built staircases with railings, concrete footpaths and fencing. CARE also has installed drains throughout the camp to mitigate flooding, and deep tube wells to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases.
CARE is constructing new bathrooms, renovating the four health centers it operates, and is in the process of providing mobile health and nutrition services. CARE has also installed solar street lamps in camps 14, 15 and 16 to promote protection and security.
Last year, rain triggered landslides in Bangladesh’s southeastern region, killing at least 170 people. Cyclones, which form in the Bay of Bengal and reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour, often hit this area. Last year, a cyclone destroyed approximately 25,000 houses in the region.
Zia Choudhury, CARE’s country director in Bangladesh:
With the monsoon here, the situation for every single person living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar will change for the worse. There still is so much to do in very little time. We are working effectively to help the communities prepare for the coming rains and storms, while supervising mitigation measures to prevent these people from becoming homeless again.
It is a race against time, and refugees are bracing themselves for what is to come. They need our support. The government, UN agencies, humanitarian organizations and civil society must work together in this crisis to save and protect every life possible.”
Shaughn McArthur, advocacy and government relations advisor for CARE Canada:
As thousands of refugees face this threat, it is also a reminder that we must not only help meet this immediate need, but work towards long-term solutions to help these people move forward with their lives. Building on the calls of civil society actors and Bob Rae’s report on this situation, we look to Canada to work with G7 partners and the international community to commit to sustainable refugee solutions that share the global responsibility for displaced people.
Monara, a refugee in Cox’s Bazar’s Potibonia camp:
We are very worried and try to stay on the top of the hill. We get scared when the rain comes, for ourselves and our children.
Md. Alom, a refugee living in Potibonia camp:
Those of us who live on the [edge of the] mountains are very scared of being affected by storms. Our names have been listed. They want to relocate us.”
To arrange an interview, contact:
Communications Specialist | CARE Canada
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