Rohingya refugees unprepared as monsoon rains, flooding and landslides continue
Melanie Kramers Senior Press Officer
19th Jun 2018
Urgent action is needed to help Rohingya refugees hit by monsoon rains in camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, which have already caused over 130 landslides, damaged 3,300 shelters and affected 28,000 people, Oxfam said today.
A survey of Rohingya refugees carried out by Oxfam before the monsoon season found that more than half were almost completely unprepared for the floods, landslides and disease that accompany the monsoon weather, with women most at risk.
Gabriela Luz-Meillet, Oxfam's Humanitarian Programme Coordinator in Bangladesh, said: "The monsoon rains are causing flooding, landslides and disease outbreaks in the Rohingya refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in temporary shelters, on hills of compacted mud which are completely shorn of protective trees and plants. Those hills could melt into the earth. There are refugees alive today who will not make it through to the end of the rainy season.
"Oxfam is working with the government of Bangladesh and the UN to relocate refugees to safer areas and to make the remaining areas as weather-proof as possible. It is a race against time. We are doing what we can but there aren't enough safe areas for all the refugees who need to move, so it is vital those who remain in danger know what to do in an emergency."
In Myanmar people were better able to prepare for the severe impacts of a monsoon, for example by moving to safer ground, building more robust homes and finding safe places to store possessions. Luz-Meillet added: "Most of the refugees come from small villages where they know how to deal with extreme weather. But now they are living in a huge tent city, disorientated and scared, and they are telling us that they lack the knowledge and resources to survive in this strange new environment. Women are in greater danger than men. They are frequently confined to their homes and do not
know how to find shelter or to get help.
"We need to ensure that refugees get the information and resources that they need so they can deal with the bad weather and its consequences. Everyone working in the camps is doing their best but we need to make sure that this response meets both the needs of the Rohingya and international humanitarian standards. Work on the ground should be matched by diplomatic efforts by the governments of Bangladesh, Myanmar and others to find long-term solutions for the Rohingya people. We cannot allow these people to endure another monsoon in these dangerous conditions in the camp."
Oxfam's survey found that 59 percent of women and 53 percent of men do not know how to ensure the safety and security of their families during and after a disaster. Only around a quarter of those surveyed know where the nearest shelter is in case of a cyclone warning, with two thirds of women unaware of its location.
In a series of focus groups, all groups said their shelters will be unable to withstand the rains, were concerned they couldn't stockpile food and firewood, and felt reliant on aid agencies. Many thought they would be cut off by the rains, and the female groups were worried about how they would feed their families.
The UN warns that 200,000 refugees are at risk from flooding and landslides, with around 24,000 of those considered at high risk. So far nearly 25,000 refugees have been relocated to newly flattened ground that should be safer.
To help keep disease at bay, Oxfam is supporting the UN to build water and sanitation infrastructure in two of the new, safer zones in the Ukhia mega-camp. Oxfam teams are also cleaning and replacing full latrines, drilling deep wells that won't be polluted by dirty ground water, and working with refugee communities to promote good hygiene.
Since last August a refugee camp the size of a small city has been created from scratch, and the scale of the crisis has meant resources have mostly focused on efforts needed to supply nearly a million people with food, water, shelter and other life-saving goods.
Spokespeople in Cox's Bazar available for interviews. For more information please contact Melanie Kramers: firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7825 088894
Footage and photos available - refugees interviewed about their monsoon fears
B-roll: three Rohingya mothers speak about their monsoon fears
B-roll: general views of conditions in Rohingya refugee camps
Notes to editors
The figures for monsoon damage are correct as of 15 June 2018 and are compiled by the Inter Sector Co-ordination Group in Cox's Bazar.
Oxfam surveyed 383 refugees and 482 households in in the two main refugee camps in Ukhia and Teknaf, giving a 5% margin of error. Oxfam also ran a series of focus groups and individual interviews in Unchiprang and Nayapara camps in April 2018, consulting 109 refugees, 46 percent of whom were women.
Oxfam has provided vital aid including food and water to at least 240,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and is planning to reach 300,000.
Oxfam has emergency response teams ready to restore water supplies and distribute and essential items should a cyclone, heavy rain or a disease outbreak hit the camps where it works. It is working with food vendors from the local community to ensure that they can still supply the camps in an emergency.