100,000 refugees in Cox's Bazar at risk of landslides and flooding

Cox's Bazar,Bangladesh: April 27, 2018 - As the pre-monsoon downpours hit Bangladesh, the lives of the Myanmar refugees in Cox’s Bazar are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

The humanitarian community is anticipating:

  • massive casualties of about 23,000 from landslides

  • about 85,000 refugees will become homeless

  • an outbreak of water-borne diseases due to flooding

  • breakdowns in access to health services and a complete collapse of the emergency support system

On Wednesday18 April, the Cox's Bazar Met office recorded 43 millimeters of rain in the area.

The first downpours indicate a major disaster waiting to happen. Field reports say the brief rainfall last week is already creating accessibility problems in the muddy hills, with overflowing small puddles into sizes of pools.

Zia Choudhury, CARE Country Director in Bangladesh, said:

With the monsoon here, the situation for every single person living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar will change for the worse. There still is a lot to do and not enough time. We are working effectively to help the communities in preparing themselves for the coming rains and storms while also supervising mitigation measures that prevent these people from becoming homeless again.

Monara Begum, a refugee in the Potibonia camp, said:

We are very worried to stay on the top of the hill with our children. We get scared when the rain comes, for ourselves and our children.

The situation may worsen when the rains become severe, around May or July. Slippery roads and small puddles will be the least of the problems for the refugees.

The Government of Bangladesh together with the aid agencies have made it their top priority to take immediate precautionary measures.

The Government of Bangladesh has begun relocating 100,000 refugees to safer grounds. A total of 540 acres of forest land, which lies in the north-west of the existing Kutupalong expansion camp in Ukhiya and Teknaf, has been allocated for the relocation of the refugees at risk of natural calamity.

Additionally, the Fire Brigade and Civil Defense, and the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry have been campaigning to generate awareness among the refugees while the highly risky areas have already been marked with red flags.

CARE is also collaborating with the Government of Bangladesh to address the situation. On behalf of the Government, CARE is managing one of the camps named Potibonia (Camp 16) with a population of more than 22,000 people.

To reduce the risks of rain and flooding, a number of measures are already in place with funding from the International Organization for Migration (IOM):

  • 4000 out of 5100+ households from Camp 16 have already received shelter upgrade kits of bamboo, tarps, and rope etc. to reinforce their existing shelters from wind and rain. Also 330 out of 438 households at severe risk have been relocated.

  • To ensure ease of movement across steep terrain, CARE has built staircases with railings, concrete footpaths and fencing for support.

  • To prevent outbreak of water-borne diseases, and to ensure safe water supply during emergencies, deep tube wells have been installed; old toilets emptied and new toilets and bathing facilities being constructed so that refugees can maintain proper hygiene throughout the monsoon.

  • CARE installed large and small drains throughout camp 16; each meter of drainage can help decrease flooding.

  • The four in-camp health centres run by CARE, are undergoing renovations for strengthening the structures. Health teams are taking preparation to provide mobile health services, in case the patients are unable to visit the centres.

  • To continue with the treatment of malnourished children, mobile nutrition teams are being formed, and mothers are getting trained on how to measure arm circumference, known as MUAC, so that they can monitor the progress of their children if they can not access the clinics. Additionally, CARE’s health and nutrition programs are working with the health sector led by WHO, the nutrition sector by UNICEF and sexual and reproductive health subsector by UNFPA to align contingency plans with the sectoral plans.

  • To ensure protection and security of women and adolescents, solar street lamps have been installed around community latrines and outside the Women-Friendly Spaces in camps 14, 15 and 16.

Mohammed Alom, one of the residents of camp 16, said:

Those of us who live on the [edge of the] hills, we are very scared of being affected by storms. They have listed our names, those who are living on the [edges of the] hills. They are trying to relocate us.

Calling out to the partners and donors, the Bangladesh Country Director of CARE Zia Choudhury added:

It is a race against time, and refugees are bracing themselves for what is to come. They need our support. The government, UN agencies, NGOs, and the civil society must work together and once again show their support in this crisis to save and protect every life possible.

Additional information

Last year, rain triggered landslides in Bangladesh’s south-eastern hill tract region, killing at least 170 people. Experts blamed deforestation for worsening the impact of the mudslides7. Moreover, cyclones forming in the Bay of Bengal, reaching speeds of 80km/h to 146km/h, often hits this area. Last year, a cyclone that struck Teknaf destroyed around 25,000 houses.

In an effort to provide the refugees with emergency shelters, massive areas in the hills of Cox’s Bazar have been cleared and flattened. Moreover, about 5,000 acres of additional forest lands have been cleared by the refugees for firewood. All these factors contribute to making the refugee camps more vulnerable to monsoons as the topsoil is now very loose from all the exposures from human activities.

Since the arrival of the Myanmar refugees began in August last year, monsoon season has been a major concern. During their arrival, many refugees had to spend days under the open sky until they got access to any makeshift shelter.

They do have better shelters now, but living in extremely vulnerable conditions hasn't improved their situation much. CARE is active in their field, working to mitigate against adverse conditions to the best of its capacity.

About CARE

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty.

CARE has more than six decades of experience delivering emergency aid during times of crisis. Our emergency responses focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations, particularly girls and women.

Last year CARE worked in 84 countries and reached 122 million people around the world.

For more information please contact:

1. [Bangladesh] Hillol Sobhan, Communications and PR Coordinator, CARE Bangladesh Mobile: +88-01711854099, Office: +880-2-9889009 Extension: 131, Hillol.Sobhan@care.org

2. [International] Johanna Wynn Mitscherlich, Emergency Communications Coordinator, CARE International Mobile: +962-798 606 707 (Based in Jordan), JMitscherlich@careinternational.org

3. [UK] Emily Wight, Senior Press Officer, Programmes and Policy, 0207 091 6063; out of hours: 07824 563 810

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