Rohingya refugees, who have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, are severely suffering in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf border areas due to absence of shelters, medicines, sanitation facilities and clean water.
To tackle the crisis swiftly, doctors and people involved in providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees have called for a strong central coordination and proper initiatives.
Until Thursday, over 350,000 refugees were staying either under open sky or at the new refugee camps and shelters at Ukhiya’s Kutupalong and Palongkhali, at Teknaf town, Nayapara and Shah Porir Dwip and many areas in Cox’s Bazar.
The UNHCR on Thursday said around 400,000 refugees have crossed over into Bangladesh since Myanmar army launched a counteroffensive against Rohingya insurgents in Rakhine in late August.
The government, NGOs and many voluntary organisations were seen providing aids in Ukhiya and Teknaf on Thursday. But medicines, sanitation facilities, clean water and shelter are both scarce and unavailable to most of the refugees.
Many suffering from diarrhoeal and different diseases were also not even getting saline, proper medicines and clean drinking water.
The Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner’s (DC) office has already opened a control centre to receive donations and relief items for proper distribution.
DC Md Ali Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune that if everyone sent their donations and aid items to them, everything would be distributed equally to all refugees.
But a large number of relief teams, representing individual initiatives and various organisations, were not coordinating with it. Many of these teams distributed food, clothing, water, baby food, saline and other medicines on their own on Thursday avoiding government instructions.
As a result, most of the distribution attempts were completely unorganised, leaving many refugees with relief and many without.
Many teams, mostly inexperienced, were seen throwing different items from trucks and vans at the refugees, resulting into waste of relief items.
“There are plenty of foods and clothing, but a roof over their [refugees] heads is a priority. Better coordination in providing aids has become a must,” said an NGO worker.
However, until Thursday evening, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) erected 700 shelter homes in coordination with the Cox’s Bazar DC office at Kutupalong and Palongkhali. At least two or three families live in each home.
Around 2,000 families currently live in these homes, while the rest of the refugees are living under open sky across the district.
Women, children suffering most
Around 80% of the total Rohingya who came over from Myanmar are women and children, who are suffering most because of the crisis, said government and NGO officials.
With the scarcity of proper medicines, these refugees, suffering from various injuries and diseases, are passing the hardest time of their lives.
There are also not enough toilets available, forcing them to defecate in the open. Women usually wait for nightfall to answer nature’s call.
Locals in Ukhiya said that people do help the refugees during the day, but at night those without shelters become helpless. Those still not listed with any refugee camp are living on the streets along with their family members, who include children, injured and elderlies.
Frequent rainfall and mosquitoes at night have made these desperate people’s lives even more difficult.
Most women and children are suffering from fever, cold and diarrhoea.
Hundreds of Rohingya women were seen begging locals for food and money to feed and treat their ailing children, mostly infants, on Thursday. Most of these women now live around bus stands and beside a 70-80km stretch of the Teknaf-Ukhiya road.
Sanitation, water and health facilities
The refugees are at high risk of catching diarrhoeal and waterborne diseases as they do not have proper sanitation facilities and are using water from various open sources, said volunteers and officials of different organisations at Teknaf.
The government and NGOs have installed 1,800 toilets near the new 700 shelter homes at Kutupalong and Palongkhali. Work to set up more of these is underway.
A government official said the sanitation system meant for the refugees is still subpar due to a number of other issues including lack in manpower, expertise and equipment.
“Health facilities are still inadequate for 400,000 refugees, even though the government organisations and many others including IOM and UNFPA are working at full capacity,” said a doctor at the health centre at Palongkhali refugee camp.
People waiting in long queues at the medical centres in the refugee camps are mostly women and children, he said.
Officials of many NGOs working to provide aid to the refugees echoed the doctor’s concern regarding the health facilities.
Dr Iqbal Mahmud, who has come from Chittagong Medical College Hospital with his medical team, told the Dhaka Tribune that there was an urgent need for shelter because of heavy rain and the sanitation facilities.
“Hundreds of thousands of refugees are living under open sky amid rain. As a result, they are suffering from cold and fever, while clean water shortage is leading to diarrhoeal diseases,” he added.
Syed Abu Hasan, technical officer (Family Planning) at UNFPA Bangladesh, said every organisation should prioritise their work in building shelters and providing clean water to the refugees.
Several days ago, the Directorate General of Family Planning had issued an order, asking its local offices and health centres to remain open 24 hours to provide health services. But this correspondent found some of them closed On Thursday afternoon at Palongkhali.
However, Mohammad Sharif, director (Mch-service) and line director (MC-RAH) of DGFP, assured the Dhaka Tribune that their field officers were working 24 hours to help the refugees.
The Cox’s Bazar DC office said biometric registration of around 2,000 refugees was completed until Thursday evening.
AKM Lutfor Rahman, the district’s assistant commissioner and executive magistrate, said the registration and accommodation process was running slow due to lack in logistics support and expertise.
“A large of number refugees is also unaware about the procedures. Additional workspaces and logistics support will speed up the process. We hope to gain that from next week.”
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, many refugees said they did not know about the registration process, while others said they knew about it but did not know where to go to register.