Over 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi trained volunteers will be first responders, as govt rule has reduced the number of humanitarian personnel in camps
The upcoming cyclone season, on top of the Covid-19 outbreak, will worsen the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) that coordinates the humanitarian activities of United Nations agencies and national and international NGOs.
As the cyclone season approaches and the danger of the Covid-19 pandemic looms in the district, ICSG partners, in support of the government, are assisting thousands in the host community and Rohingya camps to prepare for possible extremes of weather.
A cyclone following the COVID-19 outbreak would intensify the ongoing humanitarian crisis, particularly in the refugee camps, where almost 860,000 Rohingya refugees are living in temporary shelters, many in hazardous terrain, and in overcrowded conditions, with limited resources and a lack of options for emergency relocation.
Cyclone and monsoon preparedness remain a key priority. In line with the government’s standing orders on coping with a possible disaster, the humanitarian community has put in place a 72-hour response plan for an extreme weather event in cooperation with the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, local authorities in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, the Bangladesh armed forces, and the refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC). The cyclone response plan has been in place since last year and builds on joint cyclone and monsoon mitigation efforts undertaken in the past few years.
The UN and its partner agencies have strategically prepositioned sufficient stocks of emergency items such as food, tarpaulins, ropes, floor mats and water purification tablets in warehouses located in Cox’s Bazar, Ukhiya and Teknaf and in containers within the camps, to ensure rapid access to them in support of the most affected in both the Rohingya and host communities.
In addition to stockpiling, the humanitarian partners are also accelerating other preparedness activities, including the distribution of tie-down kits and sensitisation and awareness raising both in the camps and in nearby Bangladeshi communities. Restrictions put in place to mitigate risks of a COVID-19 outbreak in the camps have led to the suspension of some key activities, including slope stabilisation work and improvements to drainage systems.
The RRRC has issued a directive to limit operations to critical activities only and reduce the “footprints” of humanitarian personnel in the camps, consistent with the government’s public health policies aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19. For this reason, the role of more than 3,000 Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi volunteers trained as emergency first responders has taken on increased importance. Now more than ever, volunteers will be at the forefront of preparedness and response efforts.
“Covid-19 adds a layer of complexity when it comes to preparing and responding to natural disasters. We are reviewing the cyclone response plan in this light, to see how risks of the virus spreading to Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities can be mitigated, while still being able to save lives together when severe weather hits Cox’s Bazar district,” said Nicole Epting, ISCG senior coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.
In order to sustain vital preparedness and response efforts for the cyclone season, funding is crucial and urgently needed, particularly for shelter and emergency items and to increase the capacity of mobile response teams. Less than 20 percent of the 2020 joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has been funded so far. The lack of adequate funding risks compromising essential services and the health and wellbeing of both the Rohingya and their Bangladeshi hosts.
The restoration of 3G and 4G internet coverage in the Rohingya settlements and broader operational area remains a key request of the UN and humanitarian partners. Internet access is essential to facilitate humanitarian operations, strengthen security for personnel in the field and ensure that critical information reaches the people who need it most, as one prepares for the imminent cyclone season and work to contain the spread of COVID-19.