It takes me at least two days to recruit somebody, and in that time it seems like 50,000 more people have crossed the border!
The influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has sent humanitarian aid groups scrambling to Cox’s Bazar to help distressed families. One non-government organisation that has been scaling up humanitarian efforts in the area is Action Contre la Faim (ACF), also known as Action Against Hunger.
ACF, as their name suggests, focuses primarily on eradicating malnourishment and hunger among the underprivileged, particularly children. They have been operating in Bangladesh since 2007, implementing various food security programs, water, sanitation and hygiene activities, as well as being at the forefront of recovery efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Mahasen in 2013.
The Dhaka Tribune’s Afrose Jahan Chaity recently sat with Bangladesh Country Director for ACF Nipin Gangadharan to discuss the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
What are the dimensions of the current humanitarian crisis on the Myanmar border?
The main dimension of the situation is that this is a fast growing crisis. The scale and pace of this crisis is staggering … our workers have to be well-informed to deliver services adequately. Preparation is particularly difficult as we have no vision on the other side. We can’t predict what routes are going to be used and how the large chunks of people are going to be coming. We have to work from anecdotal information that we get from those who have arrived, so we are always a step behind. The rate is staggering. We expected 100,000 people. Today’s number is 270,000 and there are still more people coming.
How are these people getting here?
We were in touch with the people coming in and decided to ask one of them, an old man, how and when he came here and he said that he had to pay about Tk120,000 to get 10 people here. They gave whatever they had, gold and other things like that. That is another of the dark sides of the current situation, we have seen it before. They are being shipped illegally across the water, and who knows how many people make it here and how many have drowned.
What initiatives is ACF taking to address the situation?
We are trying to improve our trauma programme. We do not really deal with incidents of sexual abuse, there are other organisations who specialise in that, but we do cover general treatment. Majority of the new arrivals are women and children, and many of them are traumatised, undernourished and in need of immediate support.
Since August 25, our Wet Kitchen service has been providing over6500 hot meals per day in the makeshift camps at Kutupalong, Leda, Balukhali and Shamlapur, as well as at three more spontaneous sites that have formed in Moinar Ghona, Unchiprang and Thangkhail. We have also screened over 2500 children under five and already found 850+ children with severe and moderate acute malnutrition. These children have been admitted into our nutrition program to receive nutritional support, along with over 700 pregnant and lactating women. Furthermore, we have 10 psychologists and 37 psychosocial workers in our team. As per need, we are deploying our mobile Mental Health & Psychosocial teams to provide psychosocial support.Since August 25, we have provided psychosocial first aid to 6076 newly arrived refugees.
What are the challenges NGOs are facing at the camps?
At this point in time, we are in dire need ofwilling hands. We need more hands who are experienced so that we can do more work. It takes me at least two days to recruit somebody, and in that time it seems like 50,000 more people have crossed the border! How are we supposed to cope with these numbers? Some locals have also been helping refugees alongside us, which has eased the burden a little.
There has also been some criticism, with people asking where these NGOs are getting the money from, but we do not want to engage in that discussion. We are open about our activities and you are welcome to come down to the camps to see the kind of work that we do. We are trained professionals, we come and help.
The largest concentrations of refugees are now in the camps, so we are centring our work there. Sanitation and management of waste in the camps is a particularly difficult issue, and we have installed 35 emergency latrines with 400 more under construction.
But where are you getting the money from?
Currently, the money is being provided from our headquarters, though we have commitments from some of the donors that money will be provided. The new money needed is still being sourced. We have permissions to get funding from various organisations, with the European Union (EU) and European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) having long been supporters. The UN has allocated some $7 million for the Rohingya crisis as well.
Is ACF attempting to reach vulnerable families stranded in “no man’s land?”
We are not doing anything in the “no man’s land” because, from what we understand, people there are moving. It is not a static operation, as if there are 100,000 people stuck there. They are on the move and coming here, and if anybody needs help our understanding is that they will communicate it to us. When people get into Bangladesh, that’s when our work starts, and we also have mobile teams to help cope with any Rohingya that spread out.