Rohingya refugees who survived shocking violence in Myanmar are now threatened by heavy monsoon rains and cyclones in Bangladesh. Here’s the storm-preparedness advice aid workers are giving them.
As monsoon season looms over Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees in camps near the coast are battening down for a potential natural disaster. The refugees, among nearly 700,000 who have fled neighboring Myanmar since August 2017, are living with few possessions in flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin shelters—many on land prone to landslides or flooding. Now they must endure months of torrential rains and lashing winds, accompanied by the threat of tropical cyclones.
The IRC and our partners are leading monsoon preparedness sessions for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Photo: Jess Wanless/IRC
Bangladesh’s unique geographic location makes it especially vulnerable to catastrophic cyclones, as hurricanes are known here. As camp authorities work to relocate people from high-risk areas, the International Rescue Committee and our partners are helping refugees get ready for extreme weather.
An aid worker indicates areas of the refugee camp, marked in red on a map, that are at high risk of flooding or landslides during the monsoon.
Photo: Jess Wanless/IRC
Here are some of the most important disaster-preparedness tips aid workers have shared with the refugees:
- Make a plan: Decide beforehand where family members will meet if a cyclone comes. Do everything you can to keep your family together.
- Strengthen your shelter. Reinforce it with extra bamboo and weigh down the roof.
- Keep dried food on hand: Markets will not be open during a natural disaster, and cooking will be difficult or impossible in heavy rain.
- Keep any medicines safe and dry with your food store.
- Wrap your identity documents in plastic to keep them dry, and carry them safely under your clothes.
- Stay calm when the storm comes—it's important not to panic. Look out for children and the elderly, who need extra help.
- Get help: If a disaster happens, look for aid workers wearing yellow jackets and go to them for assistance.
Now the world’s largest stateless people, the Rohingya live in dangerously overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where basic services are stretched beyond their limits.
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The refugees have had to fashion shelter from bamboo, tarpaulins and other materials they find around the camps.These flimsy structures will not be able to withstand the lashing rain and high winds of monsoon season, which lasts from May to September.
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"In the camp where I live, my home is made of plastic tarps," says Khalida (not her real name), 35. "Our main challenge we face day to day is getting enough food—but for my children, it’s health." The International Rescue Committee treated Khalida's youngest child for severe malnutrition.
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Refugees have no choice but to scavenge the surrounding hillsides for roots and other vegetation that can be used as cooking fuel. This makes the ground unstable and poses a serious risk of landslides.
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Families are struggling to survive without enough food, medicine or even toilet facilities.The monsoon rains will cause latrines to flood and contaminate water sources. Dengue fever, hepatitis and diarrhea could sweep through the camps.
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The IRC and our partners in Cox’s Bazar are focusing on health care and the protection of vulnerable women and children. We’re ramping up our response as the looming monsoon threatens to create a public health emergency.
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As the rains set in, hundreds of thousands of people will likely be cut off from lifesaving services by rising waters. IRC mobile medical teams will serve refugee communities whose health facilities have been shut down by flooding or landslides.
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Bangladesh is also prone to other devastating natural disasters, putting refugees further in danger. In May 2017, Cyclone Mora made landfall in Cox’s Bazar, destroying a quarter of the Rohingya refugee settlements. Learn more about the IRC’s work in Bangladesh.
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The IRC is responding to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh with health care, protection for vulnerable women and children, and emergency support for refugees. Learn more about our work in Bangladesh and Myanmar.