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Bangladesh © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

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1 year after the Rohingya's exodus

The monsoon’s ordeal

We are in Cox’s Bazar, a health and seaside resort located along the Bayof Bengal, which is also our starting point for the Kutupalong-Balukhali camp and its surrounding camps. Located approximately forty kilometres away, it accommodates nearly 900,000 Rohingyas in makeshift shelters. With the monsoon in full swing, the travelling conditions have deteriorated and we need two hours to reach the area where, a year ago, there were an estimated 700,000 people from the Muslim minority who had fled from the neighbouring Myanmar. They have joined the 200,000 other previously displaced people who had fled from violent persecution in their country of origin where they were not recognised. A stateless person is a status that confers neither rights nor recognition of the endured suffering.

Popular with the international tourists, the 120km long fine sandy beach stretches out along the main road during a part of our journey. In 2015 it was rebuilt to protect the beach from tsunami. Onthe roadside there are huge sacks filled with sand and cement acting as a barrier. After a time, the road forges inland and the scenery changes. Paddy fields are replaced by forests, villages crowded with tuk-tuks and rickshaw where old buses and the 4×4 of international organisations crawl through the traffic slowing us down. Bangladesh is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world with nearly 1,200 people per square kilometre. The way in which the pedestrians avoid the vehicles weaving in and out of this colourful melee, is quite astonishing. At the top of a hill, Anis, our driver, stops the vehicle. Below us, a cloudy and muddy river meanders past. The bank on the other side isvisible through the haze. This is Naf, the natural border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Itis 52 kilometres long, and its width varies from 1.6 to 3.2 kilometres in places.

"Last year, we became used to seeing rising smoke on the opposite river bank. The smoke was from burning villages. "
Anis
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

” Many have crossed on makeshift boats seeking refuge here. They gave all their savings to the smugglers who enabled them cross. They arrived with nothing, except the clothes on their backs.͟” Anis tells us.

Bangladesh © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

The Kutupalong mega camp extended across 6,000 acres. The trees had tobe cut down in the nearby hills to make way for settling the families. At the beginning of the influx, there was nothing. Nolatrines, no shelters, no water, no food. Only exhaustion after having fled for days across the jungle. Mahadi Muhammad is the divisional Director for Action Against Hunger. He was there in August 2017and remembers everything perfectly: ͞“On26 August 2017, the first people began to flow in. The next day, with my teams, we left for no-man’s land on the frontier with Myanmar, a place where usually wedo not have the right to intervene. However, as humanitarians, we had togo there. I witnessed women and the elderly suffer. The children were covered in mud; you could not see their eyes orteeth. We cooked and loaded the vehicles with hot food and water. Our psychiatrists came along tohelp those people traumatised by the violence and flight. Now, the situation has improved, but the people are still suffering. Itis the rainy season and the hilly topography of the camp is very dangerous. Since it started to rain, channels and ditches have formed. The shelters are not robust enough to resist torrential rain. The children are falling sick with water-borne diseases. There are lots of cases of malnutrition. Currently we are treating nearly 10000 severely undernourished children.”

Perched on small hills, the bamboo shelters with their plastic tarpaulins offer little protection against the monsoon. Hastily erected, sometimes on the side of the hill, they are exposed to the hazards ofthe climate. On25 July, nearly 227mmof water fell in 24 hours, causing landslides. This is a normal day in Bangladesh. In Paris, 183mmof water fell between 1st December 2017 and 21st January 20181. 

Rana Rashed isin charge of managing camp 14: a division amongst the 22 zones that make up the immensity of Kutupalong. 33,000 people live here. “We are the link between the refugee population and the services. We make sure that the people have access to water, food, and healthcare services thanks to the different organisations that are intervening in the camp. Each month, we assess the number of people and the arrangement of the shelters. We are also responsible for the safety of the site. With the monsoon, the camp has turned into muddy field. The hills are steep and slippery. Weare building some steps to prevent people from falling. We are erecting some reinforcement walls inbamboo to protect the paths and the shelters against erosion and landslides. We are also trying toconstruct some bamboo bridges to link each hill, so that the people can go over the channels that weave in and out.”

Between two rows of buildings, a dozen men are working on building some steps. They have carried the bamboo sticks from a warehouse that is25 minute walking distance away. They saw and assemble the step structure that is going tobe filled with plastic-coated cloth sacks full of sand and cement. Some men are part of the Cash-for-Work programme.

After studying the impact of landslides, our team have identified more than 1 000 households at risk of being destroyed or damaged inside camp 14.As a result of the rains on25 July, 22 households were completely destroyed, affecting more than 100 people.

“We coordinate the response to the monsoon with other organisations. In addition to a centre with a capacity of 1 000 people, we have 250 temporary shelters ready to accommodate affected households. Plus, there are 45 mosques, 42 schools and many other installations such as healthcare centres that can accommodate more people if necessary”. explains Rana.

Bangladesh - Camp Management © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh

Camp Management

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh - Camp Management © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh

Camp Management

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh - Camp Management © Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

Bangladesh

Camp Management

© Sébastien Duijndam pour Action contre la Faim

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The teams patrol the camp every day to raise the awareness of the families to the risks of landslides and measures on reducing catastrophic risks. Coming from the refugee community, theyarecommunity volunteers, paid for their support, which enables them to have an income whilst helping their community. “We have informed the people of the possibility of being moved to a place in the South, but the majority of them do not want to leave that which has become their home, even ifitisdangerous to stay. You can understand why. Over a year ago they had to flee. It was difficult for them when they arrived here there was nothing to accommodate them. They are now settled, they know the region, the places where to find services. Moving is a huge challenge because – with the exception of the shelter – they would have to start again. Moreover, they have their family around them, in the same district. If they move, they will be separated from some of their loved ones. This makes it even more difficult to convince them toput their lives first, even if they do not know what tomorrow holds for them.”


1 http://www.meteofrance.fr/actualites/58301496-hiver-2018-une-pluviometrie-exceptionnelle

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