Monsoon Season: The Next Crisis Facing Rohingya Refugees

Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar Refugee camps, housing up to one million Rohingya refugees, are at high-risk of flooding and landslides during the imminent monsoon season. Typically between June and September, Bangladesh endures severe cyclonic storms and some of the most intense monsoonal rains across the globe. Once these weather patterns settle in, daily landslides can be expected with more than 140 already reported since the season started in earnest 3 weeks ago. Approximately 900 shelters and 200 toilets have already been ruined, water stations have washed away and people have been buried under the mud.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), rainfall has decreased since heavy rainfall between June 10 and 16. However, with an estimated 2500mm of rain due to fall over the next few months, this brief relief will not last long.

With the monsoon season comes an unrelenting list of health and safety concerns. The spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery across the camps is inevitable as well as the obvious dangers of injury as a result of landslides and flooding. Forbidden from building any permanent structures, refugees are currently crowded on top of one another in shanty homes. The WHO report highlighted the worrying inadequacy within Bangladesh refugee camps of ‘surgical capacity to manage mass casualties’ which may result in the upcoming months.

‘The safety of the Rohingya refugees during this monsoon season is priority one,’ said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after visiting Cox’s Bazar recently, “As many as 200,000 need to be relocated. We cannot allow the monsoons to wash away the hopes of the Rohingya refugees I met today.”

“The heavy rains and their impact are already compounding the suffering of these refugees, even as they try to rebuild their lives,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Kanem said during her visit on July 2.

Former UK secretary David Miliband has appealed for international aid in the face of ‘unprecedented’ and ‘alarming’ threats. In an interview with The Independent, Miliband said Rohingya refugees faced ‘a natural crisis on top of a clearly man-made one’. Some groups have begun preparing for the wet weather. The International Relief Centre has brought in mobile healthcare units in anticipation of camp infrastructure failure, and the UN has distributed 80,000 ‘tie-down kits’, which allow refugees to secure their makeshift homes with hammers, nails, and rope. But with a clear disparity between available resources and what is needed to protect a ‘uniquely vulnerable’ community, Mr. Miliband has stated there is a limit to what can be done.

While the government of Bangladesh, supported by international aid agencies and communities, has been phenomenally generous towards Rohingya refugees, the ‘Joint Response for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis (JRP)’ remains underfunded, currently sitting at only 9 percent. Without the requested US$951 million, Bangladesh will be unable to adequately respond to the refugees’ needs. Mr. Miliband has warned that ‘the danger here is that people forget about this crisis,’ and his appeal coincides with a dwindling international focus on the Rohingya crisis.

Since August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh, fleeing alleged abuses and persecution at the hands of Myanmar security forces in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar. The crisis began when the Myanmar military launched an offensive on the minority group, described by the United Nations as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’ The government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, sees the largely Muslim Rohingya population as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, however, claims its ongoing offensive targets militants and not civilians. Guterres said the Rohingya’s situation ‘has spiraled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.’

The millions of refugees currently living in Cox’s Bazar camps have surely faced enough hardship for a lifetime. However, their newest crisis is unforgiving and imminent. Of these million individuals, UNICEF estimates about 200,000 Rohingya are immediately threatened by the anticipated weather. The need for aid is overwhelming. And with the monsoon season already upon them, relocation of refugees, strengthening of shelters, improving drainage channels and increasing medical support are all critical issues which must be addressed by the international community.