UNHCR has said that it is rushing additional aid to Bangladesh where the first monsoon rains have been affecting Cox's Bazar district and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.
The first of three scheduled humanitarian airlifts carrying additional shelter materials arrived in Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Its load, 1,400 tents, is the first batch of 10,000 tents that UNHCR will airlift by the end of May.
The aim is to provide emergency shelter for an estimated 60,000 refugees currently residing in areas at high risk of landslides and flooding.
"By the end of May, UNHCR plans to equip all refugee families with shelter kits, which will include bamboo poles, ropes, shelter-grade tarpaulins, sandbags, and tools," said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic in Geneva on Friday.
In addition, the UNHCR is distributing 80,000 pre-monsoon kits to help secure shelters in case of storms and is stockpiling 160,000 post-disaster response kits to be distributed to the refugees, as well as another 30,000 post-disaster response kits to be distributed to any families who might be affected among the host community.
"UNHCR has already positioned five hospital tents and emergency health kits in Cox's Bazar. More medicines and supplies are being ordered," said the spokesperson.
Aid is also being moved by sea. This includes additional tents, 170,000 tarpaulins sheets, and other basic items.
Humanitarian partners estimate that between 150,000 and 200,000 Rohingya refugees will be at risk this monsoon season. They are living on land prone to landslides and flooding and are in urgent need of relocation.
Of them, 24,000 are at critical risk due to the severe instability of the land on which their shelters have been constructed.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since late August last year to escape a brutal military crackdown in the Rakhine state, which the UN has called “textbook example of genocide.” They joined hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who had crossed the border in the past for similar reasons.
In a massive effort to shelter refugees and meet their basic needs, Bangladesh has allocated thousands of acres of land that has already been settled on by the Rohingyas. In addition, the government has recently allocated new land for the refugees.
UNHCR, IOM and WFP engineers are working around the clock to flatten this land to accommodate those at greatest risk.
Heavy machinery and thousands of labourers are working on this.
"Nonetheless this work is going more slowly than initially anticipated due to the hilliness and instability of the land. UNHCR hopes to relocate some 5,000 people to the new land by the end of May," said the spokesperson.
In the absence of more available and usable land, UNHCR has made temporary emergency relocation arrangements, which will be activated as needed.
An estimated 35,000 refugees can be hosted by other refugees living in safer areas, 34,000 refugees can be hosted in communal structures in refugee settlements, and 66,000 refugees can be hosted in tents or other emergency shelters within or adjacent to the current settlements.
Meanwhile, in support of Bangladesh's intensive efforts to ready the refugee settlements for the monsoon rains, UNHCR is further strengthening its own emergency preparedness and response capacity – in an effort to save lives, reduce health, landslide and flood risks and preserve access to settlements.