With the monsoon season nearing in Bangladesh, locals and Rohingya refugees living in makeshift shanties in Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar after fleeing Myanmar, face a major risk of floods and landslides.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been supporting efforts to prepare the camps, which, although smaller than the giant Ukhiya sub-district settlements of Kutupalong and Balukali, still house thousands of people, who face similar threats of flooding and mudslides.
As of now, the UN migration agency has supported 24 quick impact projects in Teknaf under the umbrella of 20 Para Development Committees (PDCs) - community platforms, each comprised of six refugees and five locals.
The projects include building bridges, access roads, steps, drains, and slope protection work that will enable communities to better weather the monsoon.
The projects are being implemented mainly in the densely populated Unchiprang, Leda Makeshift Settlement, Nayapara and Shamlapur camps. Over 21,310 people live in Unchiprang, 9,320 in Leda, 24,790 in Nayapara and 22,700 in Shamlapur. In all, some 250,000 Rohingya refugees live outside the main Ukhiya camps.
"At present, the most critical issue for both the Rohingya refugees and local people is to be safe from the rains," said Maulavi Shaker, 35, a Rohingya member of a Teknaf PDC.
"Attention should be given to building roads and bridges...”
Mohammad Helal Uddin, 35, another refugee, said: “Most refugees in Teknaf are living in shelters built only with plastic sheets and thin bamboos, which are highly vulnerable to storms and rain.”
IOM and its partner agencies recognize the risks posed by the flimsy structures in high winds and rain, and have been racing to upgrade the shelters.
In Teknaf, over 15,000 shelters – housing over 78,000 people -- have been identified as in need of upgradation, including plastic sheets, poles and guy ropes.
"PDCs are helping our teams to identify workers and organizing cash for work in order to ensure that households living in flood-prone and landslide-prone areas get back-filling to elevate their shelter plots. We're also constructing drainage systems to protect the shelters from run-off water, building embankments to prevent tidal surges and doing a number of slope protection works," said Rafael Abis, site management area coordinator of IOM.
"PDCs will also help IOM in the event of an evacuation - particularly if it involves those who are unable to evacuate themselves," he added.
IOM has also helped the PDCs to establish Youth Safety and Security sub-committees within each PDC to cope with possible emergencies such as flash floods, landslides, fires or conflicts.
The sub-committee members have been trained to build the response capacity of their respective communities.
"Despite all the challenges that the Rohingya influx has created in Cox's Bazar, the refugee and local communities have maintained a harmonious relationship throughout the crisis," said John McCue, IOM’s senior operations coordinator in Cox's Bazar.
"Representatives of both communities have come together to identify shared needs and solutions. The roads and bridges that they have constructed to provide access, particularly during the rainy season, is a significant example of communal harmony in this disaster-prone area," he added.