Since August 2017, violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has forced over 690,000 Rohingya people to flee their homes and cross the border into Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where 200,000 refugees had already been living for 25 years. According to the UN, this is ‘the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. At present, there is no reliable plan for the refugees’ safe return home and they are entirely reliant on humanitarian assistance to survive.
The UN has identified water and sanitation as key priority needs in the camps, yet so far there has been insufficient funding from the international community.
Inadequate safe water facilities: 19% of wells in the camps are no longer functional – many have run dry due to over-usage and the dry season; and most are not deep enough. Many water points are located as little as two metres from latrines, compromising the safety of drinking water.
Lack of sanitation, drainage and hygiene facilities: In January 2018, 12% of latrines were unusable and there is currently no effective sludge management system – increasing the likelihood of drinking water contamination. Similarly, open drainage channels were dug ineffectively at the onset of the crisis, causing waste water and rainwater to stagnate in public areas. The risk of disease outbreak will escalate if wells and latrines flood during the rains. Unusable latrines urgently need to be decommissioned and new ones built; and effective drainage, sludge and solid waste systems need to be installed.
Energy shortage, deforestation and disaster risk reduction – The camps were built on 3,000 acres of barren landscape surrounded by forest, where refugees are going to gather firewood (in the absence of other fuel), creating several risks. Firstly, women and girls, who mainly collect firewood, have reported being attacked while trying to do this. Secondly, firewood creates toxic fumes when burned, affecting women and girls’ health as they do most of the household cooking. Finally, the resulting deforestation is causing the topsoil to become loose, significantly increasing the risk of dangerous flooding and landslides during the monsoon and cyclone season.
ActionAid currently works in 25 districts across Bangladesh. We have been responding to emergencies in the country since 1986, including Cyclone Sidr, the Rana Plaza factory disaster, and recent landslides and floods.
Since the Rohingya crisis in August 2017, ActionAid has reached over 65,000 refugees with vital support including food, water, shelter, fuel, dignity kits, Women’s Safe Spaces, and Community Watch Groups in the Kutupalong-Balukhali ‘mega camp’, the largest refugee camp in the world, where most refugees are living.
Having supported refugees to meet their most basic needs, we now need to scale up our response to address longer-term needs such as improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities to ensure refugees’ survival, health and wellbeing. So far, 40 tube-wells have been installed, 52 latrines, 40 bathing areas, and 15 ‘WASH blocks’.