As First Rains Hit Rohingya Refugee Camps, Scale of Monsoon Challenges, Need for Heavy Equipment Triggers Funding Concerns
Cox’s Bazar – Humanitarian agencies welcomed the arrival yesterday (19/4) of vital road clearing equipment as early rains struck Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps causing flooding and highlighting the severe challenges ahead when the monsoon proper arrives.
The first instalment of machinery, which included three excavators, is part of a stable of key equipment - which will also include bulldozers, compactor rollers, track loaders and all-terrain vehicles - being provided under a multi-agency response. The initiative involving IOM, WFP and UNHCR, will allow rapid clearing of key access roads and waterways during the serious flooding and landslides expected to occur during heavy rain.
The machinery will be prepositioned in ten key forward operating bases along key access roads in the megacamp and southern parts of Cox’s Bazar, which will act at hubs to ensure the flow of aid can continue as much as possible even when ground conditions are at their worst.
But the damage caused by this week’s early rains also highlighted the desperate need for more funding. The cost of work to help protect almost a million refugees from the life-threatening dangers of cyclones, severe flooding, and landslides far exceeds current financial resources and pledges. To date just 7 percent of IOM’s USD 182 million funding appeal for the rest of the year has been secured.
John McCue, IOM's Senior Operations Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar said: "The arrival of the rains first marks the start of what is going to be an incredibly challenging period for the refugees and those working to support them, with the worst yet to come when cyclone and monsoon seasons hit in the coming weeks.”
"IOM and our partners are working flat out to do as much as possible to mitigate risks and prepare people for the dangers to come. But the grim reality is that most people are living under tarpaulins on highly unstable ground and are going to have to survive months of rain, floods, landslides and possible cyclones. They are in desperate need of support and protection and we simply do not have the funding we need to deliver a fraction of what is required,” he added.
The arrival of around 700,000 refugees in just a few months had a major impact on the topography of the area. Trees and vegetation were cleared by people who urgently needed land to put up their shelters. Because of that, it is impossible to identify for certain where the most severe weather-related damage will occur. But IOM studies show that when the monsoon proper hits, an estimated 120,000 people will be at grave risk from flooding and landslides.
IOM and other agencies working to support the Government of Bangladesh have to be ready to respond to a wide range of potential emergency situations. As the agency responsible for the Balukhali extension area of the megacamp, which has been recognized as one of the most at risk areas of all because of the topography, IOM faces particular acute challenges.
Keeping access open will be crucial and IOM and its partners have responded by working with the Bangladesh authorities over the past months to create roads, pathways, bridges and drains, and to stabilize land.
IOM is also establishing sites across the camps with emergency supplies to ensure that even if areas are temporarily cut off, people will still have access to aid. Portering teams have also been readied to bring in supplies on foot, if road access is impossible.
IOM and its partners are also supporting the relocation of thousands of families from areas deemed most at risk and ensuring that the refugees themselves are enabled to be as resilient as possible before the severe weather hits. While overseeing the distribution of shelter upgrade kits to 120,000 households, IOM is also showing families how to strengthen and stabilize their shelters ahead of rainy season.
But the ground conditions and the extreme weather in the area mean that it is impossible to mitigate against all disasters. In recognition of this, IOM and its partners are also training refugees in first aid, search and rescue, and warning systems as part of a cyclone preparedness programme.
In addition to the risks from flooding and landslides, the rains and poor sanitation will also make people highly vulnerable to life-threatening waterborne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. Rehydration points are being established at medical facilities across the camps.
IOM’s monsoon preparedness efforts in the camps to date focus on the shelter and safety of the refugees. They include:
- 26,000 families have received upgrade shelter kits.
- 37,032 households have received community training on shelter upgrades and disaster risk reduction.
- 9,600 refugees have provided feedback to prepare key messaging on personal safety during the monsoon.
- 1,400 community mobilizers are conducting a door-to-door awareness campaign on preparedness measures.
- 30 field staff have been trained on cyclone season message delivery.
- 650 refugees and local community members are being trained in first aid, as well as search and rescue in emergency situations.
- 5 mobile medical teams are being trained to provide primary lifesaving health care services to displaced people during the monsoon