With the season on a turning point, another threat to the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh is on the horizon. The upcoming annual rain and cyclone period risks deepening the current humanitarian crisis, where an estimated 800 000 – with 1 000 000 displaced Rohingya Muslims, including 520 000 children – are already struggling to survive. Landslides and flooding threaten physical infrastructure, such as makeshift shelters, medical facilities and access roads needed for aid deliveries. Further risk arises from poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene conditions, which can lead to outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis E, dengue, and malaria.
Multiple aid agencies and international organisations have stressed the severity the issue poses. Spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Andrej Mahecic stated that over 85 000 refugees are susceptible to losing their shelters, with an additional 23 000 at risk of landslides. UNICEF Australia’s policy advisor Oliver White has advocated for the relocation of those most vulnerable, asserting that the seasonal weather conditions may lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
The severity of these dangerous weather patterns present refugees with is grave. Bangladesh typically has a two monsoon seasons, with cyclones prevalent from March through to July, and September through to December. In 2017, Cyclone Mora destroyed one quarter of makeshift Rohingya shelters, re-displacing 100 000 within the Kutupalong-Balukhali camp alone, and further damaged water supplies, toilets, and roadways. However, as the refugees have been violently driven from their homes and country, they are faced with little choice but to reside in the overcrowded camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, making relocation a great difficulty.
The majority of the Rohingya refugees within Bangladesh have arrived in the past year, fleeing from the Northern Rakhine State due to persecution from Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist extremists on the basis of the minority population’s ethnic-religious identity. Although Myanmar’s government has consistently denied responsibility for the intimidation and violence inflicted upon the Rohingya’s, culpability is evident with the group having also been subjected to bouts of severe discrimination by previous Burmese governments.
The UNHCR has been taking steps to mitigate the severity of the impacts that the monsoon season will likely inflict. These have included the provision of shelter kits to provide refugees the materials such as sandbags, relocation of the most at-risk families, engineering projects to bolster infrastructure such as raising bridges, reinforcing footpaths and stairs, drainage networks and retaining walls, vaccination campaigns, and early warning systems and public information campaigns for the many that are unfamiliar with the weather conditions of Bangladesh.
The effort and importance of the role that humanitarian institutions like the UNHCR play is monumental, as they seek to reduce a known and oncoming challenge for a group of people already faced by violence, displacement and dire quality of living conditions. However, as the Rohingya people are stateless and lack a stable home, the group will remain vulnerable to many challenges like these extreme environmental factors they are currently facing.
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