The Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence department fears many casualties may occur if a devastating fire breaks out in the densely-populated Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
With winter just around the corner, the fire brigade has already set up two firefighting units on camp premises with an aim to avert the loss of lives or property if there is any fire incident.
Despite the move, the fire brigade says a number of spots in the camps are not suitable for traffic and lack sources of water to douse any blaze.
“The Rohingya camps are at massive fire risk owing to poor road communication system, especially in the remote hilly areas,” Fire Service Deputy Assistant Director Mohammad Manikujjaman said. “Besides, there are not enough water sources to help extinguish a fire.”
Deputy Commissioner Md Ali Hossain of Cox’s Bazar said the authorities are going to set up some water reservoirs at different parts of the camps so that any blaze can be quickly extinguished.
“Keeping the fear of fire in mind, we are also working to construct wide paths across the camp areas in order to facilitate smoother vehicular movement,” he said.
During a visit to different refugee camps at Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, many Rohingya women were seen cooking just outside their shanties and tents.
Rezia Begum, who took refuge in Kutupalong camp, said they did not have enough space to build a kitchen.
“We have no other choice but to use a clay stove inside our tent at night due to fog, while we cook outside during daytime,” she said.
Shamsunnahar, living in Balukhali camp, said she mostly cooks inside her tent as some of her neighbours steal firewood from her makeshift kitchen erected adjacent to the tent.
Khadija, a refugee at Hakimpara camp, said they are forced to stay, sleep and even cook in the same tent. “I panic thinking about a fire incident,” she said.
According to firefighters, several small fire incidents have already recently occurred, mostly resulting from cooking out in the open. Luckily, there had been no losses of life or damage to property.
Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Md Nikaruzzaman said: “We are campaigning at the camps to raise awareness about fire incidents.”
The UNO said a 10.5km road was being constructed in the camp areas by Local Government Engineering Department.
Meanwhile, Teknaf’s UNO Zahid Siddique said: “We are increasing the presence of firefighters at the camps so they can respond quickly in any case of emergency.”
The displaced Rohingya are living in about 100,000 tents on around 3,500 acres of land on the hilly areas stretching from Ukhiya’s Kutupalong to Teknaf’s Whykong.
The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission estimated that about 629,000 Rohingya had entered Bangladesh up to November 14 after fleeing violence being inflicted by the Myanmar forces since August 25.
Apart from the ongoing influx, an estimated 500,000 of the ethnic minority group have been living in the two upazilas for years now, according to unofficial sources.
The International Rescue Committee has said there will be around 200,000 more arrivals in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state in the coming weeks.