Thousands of Rohingyas living in the border areas of Bangladesh face mortal peril as the monsoon weather gets worse
Jamila Khatun's face reflected the gloom of the overcast sky when she looked outside her window on Wednesday, checking for any sign of the heavy, grey clouds breaking away.
The rickety shack she now calls home is already flooded with rainwater from the previous day, just as the other shanties erected on the no man's land on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in the Bandarban district – currently home to more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees.
“The flash flood washed my mud stove away yesterday [Tuesday],” the mother of four told the Dhaka Tribune.
She showed her small ration of rice, lentils and vegetables that she was no longer able to cook. “The last time I cooked was yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon. My children and husband had dinner last night with the leftovers from lunch. We have not eaten anything since morning,” she added, worried about how she was going provide her family with the next meal.
The no man's land, where Jamila's family and other Rohingyas are currently residing, lies on the international border between the Konarpara area of Bandarban's Naikkhyangchhari upazila in Bangladesh, and the Tambru area of the northern part of Rakhine state in Myanmar.
The 5,000 Rohingyas took refuge in the hilly area in August last year, when the Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown in the Rakhine state – home to Rohingya Muslims – in retaliation of an attack on Myanmar border police by Rohingya insurgents earlier that month.
Bangladesh has been experiencing a heavy bout of monsoon rain for the last few days. The flash flood down the hills in the area, caused by the rain, has inundated the makeshift refugee camp on the no man's land.
“This time, the flood is worse than what we experienced in the past,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee leader in the area. “We cannot cook our food. Our children have been starving since this [Wednesday] morning.”
The Rohingyas are now worried about waterborne diseases and snakes, not to mention landslides, he added.
The situation is much worse in Cox's Bazar, where over a million refugees are living cramped up inside the camps in the district's Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.
“A number of shanties are damaged by rain, floods, and landslides every day,” said Mohammad Amin, resident of D5 block in Ukhiya's Kutupalong refugee camp. “The flash floods and landslides happened so suddenly, we had no time to move away. Our camp is waterlogged now.”
The condition of the refugees living camps deeper in the is terrible as they are in dire need of food, drinking water and medicines, said Abdul Mannan, who lives in the Balukhali camp in Ukhiya.
More than 500 incidents of landslides, flood, storms and water-logging, lightening and other monsoon calamities were reported from May 11 to date that affected about 50,000 Rohingya refugees, according to the Inter-Sector Coordination Group, that is coordinating the aid activities in Cox's Bazar.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, the government's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Md Abul Kalam said: “We have already relocated about 35,000 camp-living Rohingyas who are at high risk of landslides and flood to safer places. We also have plans to evacuate others who may face any kind of disasters.”
In its weather forecast yesterday, Bangladesh Meteorological Department said light to moderate rain with temporary gusty wind was likely to occur in most places in the Chittagong division in the next few days, while heavy rainfall was likely to occur across the country.
The aid agencies working in the refugee camps said winds and heavy rains pound the fragile landscape sheltering the refugees, triggering landslides and floods, and more emergency response was needed to tackle the situation.
The Cox’s Bazar district administration said supports and aids were being distributed to the affected people of landslides and flash floods.