Monsoon season and COVID-19 – Rohingya refugees face double threat of disaster and disease

Monsoon season and COVID-19 – Rohingya refugees face double threat of disaster and disease

Oxfam urgently appeals for public donations to support response in Bangladesh and beyond.

At the time of writing, 49 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Bangladesh. Having witnessed how quickly the virus is spreading across Europe, Oxfam Ireland has expressed serious concern for the welfare of the women, children and men living in overcrowded camps, specifically in Cox’s Bazar – the world’s largest refugee settlement – where practicing social distancing and good hygiene practices is almost impossible.

Against the backdrop of a world on hold, the Rohingya community approach the three-year anniversary of a crisis that resulted in their forced displacement. Conditions for Rohingya people on both sides of the border are getting worse, and now they face the double threat of impending monsoons and the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Monsoon season is a particularly challenging time of year, with close to a million people living in fragile bamboo shelters on muddy hillsides. When the valley that Cox’s Bazar lies in floods, it can sweep houses and even little children away. Flooding and landslides present an immediate risk to life, and in the aftermath, outbreaks of disease.

Emer Mullins, Director of Public Engagement with Oxfam Ireland, who recently visited Cox’s Bazar said:

“Over half the population of Cox’s Bazar are children, while the camps’ population density is more than four times the UN recommendation for refugee camps.

“Diseases are already common including respiratory infections, acute diarrhoea and malaria. Health facilities are insufficient and currently it can be a long process to get a permit to leave the camp to go to hospital.

“Many people arrived injured and deeply traumatised by their experiences, including having seen loved ones killed. Yet most are not getting the support they need.

“My thoughts are drawn to Naila - a woman I met in Cox’s Bazar last November. Naila was born in Myanmar and forced to flee her village with her five children when violence erupted in 2017. Her basic needs have been met, but Naila said what her and her family really need is ‘safety and security’. In our current reality, of a world on lockdown under threat from an indiscriminate foe, I think we can all understand the need for Naila, indeed for all Rohingya people, to return to a safe and normal life as soon as possible.

“We’re urgently appealing to people to support our monsoon preparation appeal – crucial work that is now all the more important as COVID-19 further threatens the health and lives of Rohingya refugees.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid, including clean water and latrines, to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees on both sides of the border. It is also working to improve camp infrastructure by installing flood-proof wells, better toilets and improved roads and has contingency plans in place to restore water supplies and distribute essential aid if needed once the monsoons strike. Oxfam calls on both governments (Bangladesh and Myanmar) to work with humanitarian agencies to improve conditions and build resilience within the camps in preparation for the monsoon season and a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

The monsoon season could devastate this camp, and COVID-19 could devastate the community living within it. Further support will be needed to ensure that vital life-saving measures can be taken now, before it is too late.

To support Oxfam’s Monsoon Response Appeal for Rohingya refugees, visit: https://www.oxfamireland.org/monsoon

ENDS

Contact

ROI:     Caroline Reid  | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

NI:       Phillip Graham| phillip.graham@oxfam.org | +44 (0) 7841 102535

Notes to the editor

o   Spokespeople available for interview upon request, including Emer Mullins who recently visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh

o   Visual content available for use – images available upon request.

o   Short video available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF8nVZPLSSE

o   What Oxfam is doing:

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya people in Bangladesh and Myanmar. So far, it has helped more than a quarter of a million (360,000) people in Bangladesh and continues to support 105,000 Rohingya and other Muslim minorities living in camps in Myanmar with clean water and sanitation services. 

o   In Bangladesh

Oxfam has 207 staff in Cox’s Bazar – of whom 184 (90%) are Bangladeshi (as of August 2019).

Oxfam is helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials like sanitary cloths. Oxfam has recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help reach 165,000 other refugees with information about safe hygiene.

Oxfam opened the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp, funded by UNHCR, which can process the waste of 100,000 people safely on site. Oxfam has designed a solar-powered water network to distribute safe chlorinated water more effectively to refugees.

Oxfam employed over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals on community construction projects including repairs to roads, schools and water sources. Almost 400 local people received grants to start or expand their small businesses.

Oxfam has installed more than 350 solar-powered street lights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns so that refugees – especially women – feel safer leaving their shelters after dark to reach water points and toilets.

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