Four-year old Rohingya child Masum Ali was seen defecating under a tree near Thangkhali camp in Cox’s Bazar. After a few minutes, he stood up and ran up to his mother without using a single drop of water to wash himself up.
Later, his mother Afiya Begum, who was waiting nearby, plucked from some leaves and started to clean her son up with them.
This has become a common scene at Rohingya refugee camps as the rapid influx of refugees from Myanmar and constrained sanitation options forced them to defecate in the open, increasing the risk of a disease outbreak there.
Inter Sector Group Coordination, a humanitarian data exchange portal led by International Organization for Migration (IOM), said on September 24 that 18,000 latrines are needed for 391,000 refugees.
Different non-government organisations have built 1,532 latrines in the last week, and construction work of more toilets is going on.
If the camps have 1,532 latrines for some 501,800 refugees, then one latrine is being used by around 327 people, which is too inadequate to meet their needs, the portal said. There should be at least 23,000 latrines for half a million people, it stressed.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Afiya, who arrived in Cox’s Bazar five days ago, said that in addition to a food shortage, they were suffering from a lack of sanitation facilities after arriving in Bangladesh.
“There is no male member in our family to take care of us. I along with my three small children are staying beside a road and eating whatever we can collect from sources like relief distribution trucks and individual supporters,” said Afiya.
“We do not have access to any sanitation facilities as we are living in the open,” she added.
She also said: “I tried to get access to latrines at camps. But they always remain busy as many users queue up to respond to the call of nature. And the toilets’ odour is too bad to tolerate.
“We have no choice but to defecate in the open. As defecation at open spaces at daytime is difficult for me, I have to go out and look for bushes.”
Describing his sufferings, Abdul, another refugee, said: “I live in a shack near a latrine at Balukhali Camp. The latrine’ smell is so awful that I cannot stay in the shack any longer. On top of that using the toilet is next to impossible as many people crowd into it.
It becomes filthy and unusable during rain, he added.
The IOM and other UN agencies are trying their utmost to provide improved sanitation facilities to the refugees as there is a high risk of the outbreak of waterborne diseases at the camps.
Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, senior director of Nutrition and Clinical Services Division at ICDDRB, said the shortage of sanitation facilities might cause a disease outbreak, which might even turn epidemic.
Meanwhile, the aid agencies and NGOs have put up banners to raise awareness among the refugees about the existing sanitation facilities and urged them not to defecate in the open.
Most refugees, however, said they do not understand what has been written on the banners as they cannot read Bangla.