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Monsoon puts Rohingya refugees in harm’s way

Published : Sunday, 8 July, 2018 at 12:27 PM  Count : 471

Monsoon puts Rohingya refugees in harm’s way

Rohingyas in refugee camps have become more vulnerable to natural disasters with the onset of the monsoon season.

They are at risk of losing their lives in landslides, floods and cyclones.

The absence of a proper communication system hampers their movement while there is a grave danger of landslides for those who built houses on top of the hills and at the bottom.

Cyclones are emerging as the biggest threat to the houses built with flimsy materials in the new camps. Cox’s Bazar is prone to cyclones which will cause severe damage to the camps, disaster preparedness experts believe.

At least 200,000 people should be shifted out of the camps—away from cyclones and rains, said António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations while visiting those camps.

At least 700,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh fleeing their homes in Rakhine state in the last 10 months after the Myanmar authority began a crackdown on them in August 2017.

Bangladesh that has been already providing shelter to 400,000 Rohingyas opened its border and provided shelter for them.

Rohingyas have been sheltered in 30 camps, mostly concentrated in Kutupalong and Balukhali.

Those Rohingyas who arrived recently found refuge in Balukhali. They are building houses everywhere—on top of the hills and at the bottom. Makeshift houses and tents dot the area.

Soil has been dug out from the hills to make room for Rohingya shelters.

Some incidents of landslides have already been reported with one person dying as a house caved in.

Makeshift houses built indiscriminately in the hills are highly risky.

They did not have any option but to build houses wherever they got space, when they sought refuge in Bangladesh fleeing the severe torture in Myanmar, Altaf Hossain, a Rohingya refugee, told bdnews24.com.

Building houses by digging hills is hampering the environmental balance raising risks of landslides, said Prof ASM Maksud Kamal, a teacher of Dhaka University’s Disaster Science and Management Department.

“We had prepared a report for UNHCR that showed more than 80,000 people are at risk of landslides in Rohingya camps,” he toldbdnews24.com adding the UNHCR has urged the government to shift those to a safer place.

“They are making toilets and installing tube-wells on the hills which is washing out the soil,” Kamal said.

“People living on the hills know how and where to build houses but Rohingyas are unaware of it as they are plainland people.”

“Fears of landslides run deep as the monsoon is approaching with heavy downpour,” said Mohammed Abdus Salam, head of the Human Disaster Management Programme at BRAC.

“Few camps were risky to live in, but we have evacuated at least 25,000 people from those,” Md Abul Kalam, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told bdnews24.com.

Initially, the Rohingyas had built houses indiscriminately in risky places, but later they became aware of the risks, said Abul Kalam.

However, he said it was hard to shift people from risky zones as they were scared of moving to a new place.

Relocation is set back by a lack of space and a fund crunch.  

Only 26 percent of required funds have been secured for Rohingyas, Guterres said.

Apart from landslides, cyclones are another risk for the camps, said experts.

“Not a single house will survive if a cyclone hits the camp as the houses are made with makeshift materials such as mud wall and polythene; or in some cases tin for roofing,” said Salam.

“Cyclones will blow up these houses,” he said. There is not enough space to shelter the refugees, as cyclone centres in those areas are not big enough to accommodate even the local residents, he said.

“There are 1,200 learning centres, mosques and other establishments where they can take shelter. We have trained our volunteers,” said Kalam.


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