Rohingya families cling on, amid deluge

June 28, 2018
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Noel Molony

As bad luck would have it, this year’s monsoon in Bangladesh has been particularly heavy – which is nothing but bad news for those who fled Myanmar in fear of persecution. Concern has a strong presence in the camps of Cox’s Bazar and we spoke to members of our emergency team there to get the latest update.

 

“We’ve had more than three times the normal rainfall for the month of June… and we’re only three weeks into the month.” Those are the words of Gillian Boyle, who is tasked with coordinating logistics for Concern’s operation to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Temporary shelters on hillside

Shelters clinging to hillsides at Kutupalong camp. Photo: Noel Molony

It’s early in the monsoon season, and over 800,000 people are stranded on the muddy hills of Cox’s Bazar, just across the border from their home country of Myanmar. “It’s vast – I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gillian said this week.  “Plastic and bamboo shelters as far as the eye can see.” She has worked in some of the world’s most challenging locations.

 

Tents surrounded by mud, with young child.

Children take advantage of a break in the deluge to place among the shelters in Kutupalong camp . Photo: Noel Molony

Those temporary shelters were never going to be enough to cope with the monsoon. Despite desperate efforts at reinforcement, nearly 20,000 people have once again been displaced, this time by landslides, wind and torrential rain during the month of June. July is traditionally the month when the rain is heaviest — over three inches falling every day.

Child in mud and rain with umbrella

A child shelters from the Monsoon rain in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Noel Molony

Water and mud

The heavy rain has also made accessing the camps difficult, as part of a paved road built to facilitate relief efforts was washed away when culverts were overwhelmed and collapsed.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to live here.”

Concern has 90 staff and 150 Rohingya volunteers manning six nutrition centers and providing dignity hygiene kits for girls and women in eight camps. They too have been struggling to cope with conditions in these densely populated camps.  “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live here,” Gillian Boyle says, “given the conditions we work in most days — wading through water and sliding through mud.”

Concern staff member from behind with umbrella Cox's bazar

Even the best constructions are not immune – one of our nutrition centers was recently swamped by nearly 30 inches of water, streaming like a river down from the hill sides where household shelters are positioned perilously, after a day of particularly heavy rain. Gillian, her team, and volunteers from the camp will dismantle the structure and rebuild it again – three feet higher than before.

Kids at risk

Nearly 50,000 young children have been screened by the Concern team, with nearly three quarters of them suffering either moderate or acute malnourishment. Their guardians are instructed in basic treatment and given supplies of high protein food.

A concern nutrition center in the rain Bangladesh

A concern nutrition center in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Noel Molony

As latrines flood and collapse, the risk of water borne infection will be a major issue in the months ahead. Children are always the most vulnerable. A new extension to Kutupalong camp is almost finished and many families will be relocated to safer ground. The monsoon and cyclone season ahead though, look decidedly grim for the conflict-traumatized Rohingya of Cox’s Bazar.

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