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UNHCR: Largest ever refugee waste management facility in Rohingya camps

  • Published at 03:08 pm February 2nd, 2019
Rohingya camp
File Photo of a Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

This will significantly reduce health risks for refugees and host communities, and the likelihood of the outbreak of disease’

The ability to treat large volumes of waste on-site at Rohingya camps, rather than having to transport it elsewhere, is a critical step to safe and sustainable disposal of such waste in emergency situations, said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

"This will significantly reduce health risks for refugees and host communities, and the likelihood of the outbreak of disease," UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday.

UNHCR and Oxfam have together put into service this week in Cox's Bazar the biggest human waste treatment facility ever built in a refugee settlement, said the spokesperson.

The facility, funded by UNHCR, can process the waste of 150,000 people – 40 cubic metres a day, reports the UNB.

Close to a million Rohingyas live in a complex of settlements in the Cox's Bazar area.

Kutupalong, the largest refugee settlement in the world, is home to more than 630,000 refugees, and managing the waste in this terrain requires innovative approaches.

The speed and scope of the refugee crisis that began in August 2017 meant that most of the refugee sites grew spontaneously, resulting in limited available land suitable for latrine pits and wastewater treatment.

Bangladeshi authorities provided the site for the facility and the project was delivered in collaboration with the government's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner's Office in Cox's Bazar.

UNHCR and Oxfam engineers, with support from Rohingya refugees, built the new site in just over seven months.

The sludge is transported by waste vehicles that empty out waste from multiple locations in the refugee sites into two massive tightly-covered lagoons, where the processing begins.

The facility requires minimal operational and maintenance costs, with the initial investment of developing the site and installing the equipment falling just under $400,000.

The system also benefits local Bangladeshi communities, who have been generously hosting and supporting refugees.

This model will be rolled out across other sites in the Cox's Bazar area in 2019, and UNHCR is considering replicating it in future refugee crises, said Mahecic.

UNHCR has also been working with partners on waste management in Rohingya refugee areas in over 275 small-scale sludge treatment sites.

More than a dozen different treatment technologies have been implemented, in different scales, combinations and configurations – including lime treatment, biological treatment processes and biogas production, which also supplies some refugees with gas for cooking.