200,000 Rohingya at risk of landslides as monsoon hits Cox’s Bazar
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200,000 Rohingya at risk of landslides as monsoon hits Cox’s Bazar

HEAVY rains have lashed the massive Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh as the monsoon season begins, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of severe flooding and landslides.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that “nearly continuous” rain since the weekend had already seen 37 landslide incidents causing several injuries and killing at least two people including a two-year-old boy.

Speaking to Asian Correspondent by phone, Save the Children’s Communications and Media Manager in Cox’s Bazar Daphnee Cook said that “it’s been raining pretty much constantly for the last four days.”

“What’s happened is that in three days the camps have gone from sandy clay to mud and lakes. It’s completely inundated,” she said.

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The UN estimates based upon aerial mapping that 200,000 people are still at risk of landslides and floods and require relocation to safer areas. Bangladesh’s government is working with aid agencies to relocate an initial group of 100,000 Rohingya from the camps, Reuters reported.

“Sodden and unstable hills have collapsed over the weekend, destroying latrines. At lower levels, water from flash floods is washing over latrines, carrying sludge through the camps,” said Sanjeev Kafley, head of Cox’s Bazar Sub-Office for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in a statement.

“We’re already seeing increases in acute water diarrhoea, and the risk of an outbreak of waterborne diseases is now a serious likelihood.”

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A child wades through mud after a storm at the Chakmarkul refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh June 10, 2018. Picture taken June 10, 2018. Kristiana Marton/Save the Children/Handout via Reuters

The main road through Kutupalong has already been flooded and is blocking vehicle access to much of the settlement, requiring repair from the Bangladeshi army. This has hindered aid efforts as agencies are forced to enter the central and outer areas of the camp on foot.

NGOs have for months warned about the monsoon worsening the humanitarian crisis facing Rohingya refugees. In February, the UN warned of an impending “crisis within the crisis” at the Bangladeshi camps, which is now the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee settlement.

There were 915,000 Rohingya refugees living in settlements and host communities in Cox’s Bazar as of May 24. Around 700,000 of them have arrived since Aug 25, 2017, when attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) against security outposts sparked military and vigilante reprisals against Rohingya communities across the Rakhine.

Mass killings, sexual violence and targeting of Rohingya villages for arson has been described by many international observers as ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

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Bittersweet Eid

Since Saturday, strong winds of up to 70 kilometres per hour along with torrential rain has already impacted 2500 refugee families, reported the UNHCR. Cook from Save the Children said that it was “incredible that this has happened so quickly. We’ve got another two months of rain and this has happened after just 24 hours.”

The monsoon comes after weeks of hot weather, during which the largely Muslim Rohingya refugees have been fasting for the holy month of Ramadhan. Observant Muslims cannot eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, which in Bangladesh lasts almost 15 hours.

“Everyone says ‘I’m glad it’s Ramadhan but our houses are made of plastic’,” said Cook. “You go into one of these houses and you just can’t stop sweating. It has made what is already an extremely challenging situation even more difficult.”

Muslims mark the end of Ramadhan with Eid al-Fitr, usually celebrated by spending time with family, giving gifts to children and eating special food.

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A Rohingya refugee child is handed food rations at Jamtoli refugee camp near Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 29, 2018. Source: Reuters/ Clodagh Kilcoyne

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“Parents have said how upsetting it is that this year they can’t give their kids anything special just rice and lentils, which is what they’ve been living on for nine months,” Cook said.

Humanitarian agencies launched a Joint Response Plan in March in preparation for the monsoon, aiming to raise US$951 million to ensure health and food security in the camps. Funding is also required for building materials as floods and landslides destroy people’s makeshift homes.

To date, however, just 21 percent of the funds have been raised.

“Rohingya people are an extremely industrious group of people, they’re very resilient, they’re used to rebuilding,” Cook added. “As people’s houses are destroyed they pick things up and rebuild.”