This languid, mid-summer season we find ourselves in is known for sultry weather, long days and — for far too many around the world — life-threatening dangers.
This year, people living on the margins face a growing number of dangers. They live in places where disease, violence and persecution are a way of life. Here are seven deadly dangers to watch for during the summer of 2019.
1. The Ebola Virus
Mention Ebola to someone and watch their visceral reaction. Few diseases terrify the way the Ebola virus does. It’s the viral equivalent of the monster under the bed. But unlike the monster, Ebola won’t disappear if we close our eyes and go to sleep.
Right now in Congo, there have been more than 2,418 confirmed cases of Ebola, making it the second-worst outbreak on record. The number is of little long-term value. Consider it a snapshot in time, a point on a graph illustrating Ebola’s continuing rise since it broke out last August.
Look beyond the numbers and you’ll see real people, many living in areas prone to fighting and violence. They want to escape but in most cases can’t. In Congo, there are now 400,000 internally displaced people who have fled the dual threat of Ebola and militants. Thousands more are escaping each month, crossing the border into Uganda and raising concerns Ebola will spread into that country.
With the exception of a few isolated cases, that hasn’t happened. We’re working to ensure it stays that way by screening all in-coming refugees for Ebola at official crossing points. The health workers manning these posts are monitoring for signs of Ebola — increased temperature, for example — and disinfecting refugees as they come through.
2. Fighting and Violence
Conflict is an unfortunate byproduct of human existence. But this becomes more pronounced during the summer months. All over the world, crime and conflict increase as temperatures rise. This is especially true in countries lacking security or leadership, where people are vulnerable to warring factions.
Studies are beginning to show how heat waves and droughts lead to violent conflicts and even the collapse of ancient civilizations. More people than ever before are leaving their homes under the threat of violence. They seek asylum and safety someplace else out of necessity.
According to an investigation published in the journal Science two years ago, “Weather-induced conflicts in developing countries spill over to developed countries through asylum applications.”
This may only tell part of the story, however. The vast majority of refugees, roughly 84 percent, live in developing countries like Uganda, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Tanzania. These are countries ill equipped to take on a fast-moving influx of desperate people in need of medical care.
3. Increase in Displacement
More people than ever before are displaced, forced from their homes by conflict, persecution or changing weather patterns. This is leading to cramped and crowded refugee camps, located in countries without the resources to provide services.
The summer months often see a rise in refugees crossing borders due to conflict. The last few years are examples of this. During the summer of 2016, violence in South Sudan forced hundreds of thousands across Uganda’s northern border. During the late summer of 2017, violence in Myanmar led to even more Rohingya refugees seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh.
Because refugees are living long-term in these new locations, unable to return to their homes, they’re in constant need of medical care. In both Bangladesh and Uganda, we’re providing these essential services at our health facilities. But as the numbers increase, so do the needs.
4. Extreme Heat and Droughts
Summer weather around the world can be unpredictable. In Bangladesh, for example, the summer can be extremely hot and wet.
During the summer, temperatures in Cox’s Bazar can reach 104 Fahrenheit in the camps. With monsoons due to arrive in June, the UN’s refugee agency is expanding efforts to build better facilities to capture and preserve rain water.
Elsewhere, summer droughts lead to poor crop yields, resulting in more displacement. And for refugees living in places where they’re exposed to the elements, the extreme heat that summer brings can be deadly.
Summer weather can be a fickle thing in parts of the world where people are most prone to the elements. As much as extreme heat and droughts can devastate, so too can heavy monsoon rains.
Bangladesh is one country where the monsoon season stretches from June to September. The country is home to exiled Rohingya refugees, whose camps stretch across the tree-free landscape like a sprawling city. When heavy rains come, hillsides slip away, destroying structures. Flooding infiltrates homes; and pools of standing water become the breeding grounds for diseases.
Malaria is a way of life in parts of Africa. Many people who live in remote areas become afflicted with it at some point during their lifetimes. It’s also a deadly disease, one that’s particularly damaging to young children or the elderly. For refugees living in camps throughout Uganda and Tanzania, the threat malaria poses is very real.
We provide refugees with malaria medicine at our clinics throughout Uganda and Tanzania. This summer in Tanzania, we’re distributing bed netting as a preventative measure to protect refugees from the disease.
Suzanne Kaoto’s story shows just how devastating malaria can be. She has lived in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania since its opening in 1996. She has very few memories of her home in the Congo. Suzanne has given birth to eight children. Every one of them has suffered from malaria.
Her mud-brick home is surrounded by swampy fields – a perfect place for deadly mosquitoes. They do what they can to sleep under mosquito nets, but giant holes ripped in the netting give mosquitoes easy access to her children. And they struck her 5-month-old son hardest of all. He was sick for almost a month with a high fever and diarrhea. Despite Suzanne’s best efforts, her son succumbed to the illness, dying at the local health facility even after being put on an IV drip of medicine.
Suzanne grieved for her lost son, but eventually she became pregnant again. She gave birth to another son who she named Rwamba in memory of the son who died of malaria.
But there’s been a big change in the refugee camp since that tragic day when Suzanne buried her child. With support from the U.S. Government and a partnership with Tanzania Red Cross Society, Medical Teams has started working there and now oversees programs dedicated to caring for children with malaria.
7. Destroyed Shelters
Syrian refugees who escaped their war-torn country for Lebanon have for years lived in informal settlements without government approval. This summer, Lebanese armed forces have begun destroying some of the shelters, claiming they don’t comply with housing codes that have been largely unenforced until now.
Most of these refugees have been living for years on the edges of agricultural land where they typically pay a small fee to the land owner. It is also common for the refugees to work in the fields or on farms as a way of subsisting because they have no other way of earning money. Without shelters, families are again homeless, left to sleep illegally in the elements or return back to Syria, which remains a dangerous place. By some estimates, 15,000 children will be affected by the crackdown.
In Bangladesh, with the threat of monsoons this summer, steps are being taken to protect refugee structures from being swept away by landslides or heavy flooding. People like Soma and her family are waiting to see how the summer weather will affect their lives. After escaping the violence in Myanmar, she and her family set up a modest tent in the refugee camp in Bangladesh and began living there. But the tent is not structurally sound. High winds or flooding could easily wash it away, leaving her family exposed to the elements. We have already treated Soma for tuberculosis and her granddaughters for other illnesses. Living in wet conditions without a roof over their heads could result in their contracting other diseases.
The summer months can be dangerous and unpredictable for people in crisis all over the world. Diseases, harsh weather and conflict threaten their lives. But knowing these dangers is a crucial step in anticipating how we can help bring health and healing.
Thank you for your support. This summer, you can fight the dangers by giving a donation to help people facing an unpredictable future.