Rohingya refugees face ordeal of monsoon
Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in shacks in makeshift camps in Bangladesh are facing the terrifying prospect of destructive rain and storms as the annual monsoon season approaches.
The barren hillsides in southern Bangladesh that are home to the Rohingya have been buttressed by thousands of sandbags.
“They make it safer, but they won’t hold if the rain is really heavy,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres worker Michel Lagarde.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since last August escaping a brutal and bloody military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.
Most now live in flimsy, bamboo-and-plastic structures perched on what were once forested hills.
The onset of the monsoon season could see what has become one of the world’s biggest refugee crises become a humanitarian catastrophe.
Each year Bangladesh is lashed by typhoons, and the Rohingya camps are clustered in a part of the country that records the highest rainfall.
Computer modelling by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) shows that more than 100,000 refugees will be threatened by landslides and floods in the coming monsoon.
The rains usually begin in April and peak in July, according to Bangladesh’s Meteorology Department.
In one of the biggest camps at Kutupalong-Balukhali, the UNHCR modeling suggests up to a third of the area could be flooded, leaving more than 85,000 refugees homeless.
Another 23,000 refugees live on slopes that are at risk of landslide.
The UNHCR, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program are using earthmoving equipment to level more than 100 hectares in northern Kutupalong-Balukhali camp in a bid to make the area safe, according to the UNHCR.
IOM is putting trying to improve roads and stabilise slopes as well as also setting up emergency diarrhoea treatment centres and providing search and rescue and first aid training.
Bangladesh’s Disaster Management agency says the government is working with the UN to relocate 133,000 people living in high-risk areas.
It has also launched a Rohingya-language radio station that will act as a natural disaster warning system, the agency said.
There is also a controversial plan to turn an uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal into a temporary home for the Rohingya and move 100,000 refugees there ahead of the monsoon.
Medecins Sans Frontieres says flooding increases the risk of disease outbreaks and also can block the delivery of vital medical supplies. It can also flood latrines, washrooms and tube wells, creating a public health crisis.
The risk of landslides has been worsened because refugee families cut down trees to use as fuel in cooking fires.
Other trees were cut down to make way for the refugees’ shelters.
See the UNHCR modelling here: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/MYANMAR-ROHINGYA-MONSOON/0100615F2DC/index.html
AMES Australia Senior Journalist