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Food distribution at Balukhali Kathleen Prior



Three years on, a look at the Rohingya crisis

The majority of Rohingya refugees live in camps with population densities of less than 15 square meters per person — far below the minimum international guidelines for refugees of 30 to 45 square meters. Most of Rohingyas live in fragile shelters in the middle of floodplains and on landslide-prone hillsides. At the same time, seasonal monsoon floods threaten large parts of the camps, which are also poorly prepared for powerful cyclones that typically peak along with coastal Bangladesh, especially in May and October when heavy rains cause multiple landslides, damaging shelters and latrines.

The coronavirus pandemic has reached Rohingya refugees camps in May 2020. Since then, the healthcare system is operating under a lot of stress and health services are insufficient to cover the increasing needs. Aid groups and the government have scaled up isolation and treatment options, carrying out awareness work on hygiene practices and social distancing. In July, Action Against Hunger coordinated the opening of the new COVID-19 isolation and treatment center, in expansion of Cox’s Bazar Sadar hospital, fully operational and able to receive new patients.

As the risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases remains high in the camps, NGOs and WHO continue to monitor the risks and support partners in prevention and management activities. Since the beginning of May, our teams in Cox’s Bazar reached 203,185 people through mass awareness sessions raising initiatives on hygiene promotion, infection prevention and control in the refugee camps and host community. These and other activities, such as kitchen gardens and food distribution, continue to be delivered by dedicated humanitarian workers during these unprecedentent times of COVID-19.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-23 at 11.22.20 @ Action contre la Faim Bangladesh
90753959_942661089482273_7690120419294052352_n © Action contre la Faim Bangladesh
CXB_Comms_Mahmud_and_Oyessorzo © Action contre la Faim Bangladesh

Coronavirus concerns are grabbing the headlines, but other crises have not stopped

While public health is a significant concern, food security remains one of the main challenges. Malnutrition rates in camps were extreme even before the COVID-19 crisis. Today, Rohingya refugees are even more vulnerable and in need of urgent nutrition support. General food distribution packages are currently based on rice, oil, and pulses, on a distribution cycle of two weeks, but the access to more diversified and nutritious food is low for both refugees and host communities. They need regular access to food and to clean water to save and sustain their lives. Action Against Hunger launched an initative of cooked food support in Cox’s Bazar, where 38458 people could receive hot meals, including those maintaining home quarantine.

NGOs are advocating to deal with an invisible crisis that includes mental health and psychosocial support for refugees of all ages. Many are burdened with the trauma of losing loved ones, the anxiety of acute fear, and the uncertainty of not knowing where their family is. Compounded by the daily stressors of displacement – like hunger, lack of work, disease, lack of adequate playgrounds, or space for physical activity – depression and other mental health issues start appearing due to the COVID-19 situation. Together with trained psychlogists, Action Against Hunger provides tele-conselling sessions to help girls, boys, and their families cope and begin to heal.

The more protracted the crisis becomes, the more problematic it is if people are not given the needed support. Our priority is to focus on basic needs of the forcibly displaced Rohingya population, lifesaving assistance, their well-being and dignity, restoration of the severely damaged environment in Cox’s Bazar, and confidence-building between the refugees and host communities.

The Rohingya refugees are facing years of deprivation and a very bleak future. Despite its resilience in the face of adversity, this refugee population remains exceptionally vulnerable.

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