In the Kutupalong refugee camp, off the southern coast of Bangladesh, a light sprinkling of May rain is a foreboding expression of what lies ahead. For Rohingya refugees living in one of the largest and most disaster-prone camps in the world, it’s a sign of danger to come.
The camp sprawls like a city into the horizon. But this is no ordinary city. Imagine a slum metropolis the size of Baltimore, which arose out of nothing practically overnight. It’s now home to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
The Rohingya refugees who live in the camp reside in flimsy structures. The homes speckling the landscape were constructed quickly out of tarps and bamboo. The dirt and deforested landscape is a rolling series of hills, with homes both perched directly on the hillsides and on the valley floor.
When heavy rains wash over the hillsides, the earth will slip forward, destroying shelters, consuming the residents, and flooding the valleys below. The monsoons will severely limit people’s ability to move.
Health workers fear the months-long monsoon and cycloneseason will bring destructive landslides, flooding, and disease outbreaks. Heavy rains typically begin in April and peak in July. Cyclones tend to lash Bangladesh in early spring and late fall.
The refugees are stuck. Their movement is severely restricted in and out of the camp. Even though they know the weather will worsen, they cannot leave the camp. The UNHCR and aid agencies are working to move the refugees in the most danger, those who live on steep hillsides, to safer ground.
Fatema Prepares for the Worst
One of the refugees in danger is Fatema, a mother of eight who’s lived in the camp for the past seven months. She and her family escaped Myanmar last year during a surge in violence. Fatema is extremely concerned about the upcoming monsoon season.
“We are very worried. We don’t have enough tarps. I don’t know what we‘ll do. I don’t think this house is safe,” she said, seated inside her extremely modest bamboo home. “My house in Myanmar was safe. But what if this one slides down the hill? We are concerned about food. How will we get food to eat when the rains come?”
Life in the camp is uncertain. When Fatema and her family first arrived, her husband had jaundice and her children were sick. They sought treatment and fully recovered. But fear lingers. What will happen if they’re sick and can’t reach the clinic?
Infectious diseases are likely to increase during the rains, as damaged or destroyed shelters will result in wet and cold sleeping conditions. Sanitation is expected to significantly deteriorate. Latrines are at risk of overflowing and those constructed on hills could be washed away by rains or landslides. Meanwhile, water contamination and reduced access to drinking water are likely to worsen.
Before the Storms Hit
Medical Teams International, in partnership with Food for the Hungry, is working closely with UN programs to safeguard refugees from the ravages of the monsoon season. While many crises are unpredictable, this one is not. We are taking steps to prepare mobile medical units to treat isolated patients and provide life-saving care, public healthservices, and medicine. With your support, these mobile medical units will have the power to save thousands of lives.
“This is the biggest refugee crisis (right now) because of the vulnerability,” said Frank Tyler, Medical Teams’ humanitarian health advisor. “Access in the camp could be wiped out.”
You can help mobilize up to five mobile medical units that will bring life-saving, immediate medical care to isolated families. “Our clinics will most likely be flooded,” Tyler added. “If we see anything more than a category 2 cyclone, they will be completely wiped out.”
That’s why planning is key: Even if storms wipe out the clinics, mobile medical units will enable doctors to go to where patients need them.
Planning will prevent deaths and keep people like Fatema and her family safe. It took them five agonizing days to reach the border of Bangladesh. Stripped of her dignity after living through unspeakable trauma, she arrived in the refugee camp with no possessions. Over the months, she’s worked to provide for her family. After all she’s encountered and survived — persecution, crisis, and violence — we cannot allow her or her family to succumb to sickness.
The next few months will be a trying time. But through your support and prayers, the Rohingya people can persevere.
Your support is urgently needed. Save a life, give today.