Since August 25, in just three months, more than 620,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in search of safety in neighboring Bangladesh.
Six out of ten of these refugees are children. They live in camps in Bangladesh’s southernmost district, Cox's Bazar, and most of them have only survived because of the services of humanitarian organizations authorized to operate in the region. The pace and scale of this movement have prompted the United Nations to call this the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis” that shows little signs of abating. In a two-day period last week, 2,800 people crossed the border into Bangladesh.
Most refugees fled with only the clothes they were wearing. Thousands suffer from hunger, and many children have not been vaccinated for measles or cholera. They are now dependent on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. The living conditions in the camps in the Cox's Bazar region of Bangladesh, where most of the refugees have arrived, are particularly difficult. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to safe water, and heavy rains have escalated risks of outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
Children in Jeopardy
Action Against Hunger’s assessment in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar found that 7.5 percent of children are suffering from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. An estimated 40,000 of those children are at risk of death.
Most of the Rohingya refugees are children: they comprise between 55 and 58 percent of the total refugee population. Children in the camps face a high risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation, trafficking, and discrimination, as well as major threats to their health.
The conditions for children and adolescents are deplorable. Many refugees have no choice but to create makeshift shelters on the roads or sleep outside in the open air, near camps, roads, and forests. The massive influx of refugees in just 100 days has been overwhelming to the humanitarian community in Cox’s Bazar. People are extremely vulnerable, traumatized, and in urgent need of immediate assistance to meet their daily survival needs for food, water, shelter, sanitation, and emergency health care.
A Q&A with our Bangladesh Country Director
Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Nipin Gangadharan, reports on the humanitarian situation three months after the onset of conflict.
What is the situation today in the district of Cox's Bazar?
It is constantly evolving, as is the scale of needs. In late November, out of 8,000 new refugees, 1,700 were highly vulnerable: that is a very high proportion. People were experiencing medical emergencies, many were elderly people or individuals very weak from hunger. Some were wounded, some were newborn babies. Even when we reach a point at which the humanitarian community has been able to contain the situation, and to anticipate certain possible additional climate shocks, such as the risk of a cyclone, we will still be facing a massive public health emergency, and I am not only talking about cholera. It would take a day or two of heavy rain and strong winds for the public health and sanitation situation to dangerously deteriorate.
Are the refugees receiving adequate food?
Our partners at the World Food Program have managed to provide most refugees with regular supplies of dry food rations including rice, lentils, and cooking oil. Action Against Hunger is prioritizing providing regular hot meals via our community kitchens across Cox’s Bazar to meet the daily food needs of the most vulnerable newly arriving refugees who do not have access to the World Food Program distributions and do not have the ability to store or cook their own food, particularly pregnant women and nursing mothers. The needs are tremendous and no single organization can adequately address this crisis. We are working together, and in partnership, we have been able to provide most newcomers with food and other essential services at least once a day.
How is Action Against Hunger working to improve the health conditions for refugees?
We are prioritizing water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives to manage waste in the camps, and to improve access to safe water, latrines, showers, and handwashing stations. We are also working to ensure adequate drainage of wastewater to prevent disease outbreaks. This will remain our priority area for the short and medium term.
By the Numbers: Action Against Hunger's Response
Since the onset of the crisis in late August, Action Against Hunger’s teams have been present in Cox’s Bazar to respond to the needs of the influx of refugees in partnership with UNHCR and the government of Bangladesh. Over the past three months, we have scaled up our operations to meet the rising needs, and we are a leading agency in emergency nutrition and water and sanitation.
In the past 100 days, Action Against Hunger has:
- distributed more than 2,779,920 hot meals to refugees in makeshift camps (as of December 14, 2017)
- screened nearly 175,000 children under the age of five for malnutrition
- provided food assistance to nearly 9,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers
- improved access to drinking water, and prioritized installation of sanitation and toilets
- built 2,000 emergency latrines in Kutupalong and Balukhali refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar
- provided more than 2,300,000 liters of drinking water to people in need
- scaled up our operations and mobilized more than 200 humanitarian staff and 700 volunteers to respond to this emergency
- UNHCR, Government of Bangladesh, RRRC FACT SHEET - Family counting (November 2017)
- UNICEF, Bangladesh Humanitarian Situation report - Rohingya influx (8 October 2017)
- CPSS, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh: Child Protection Sub-Sector Achievements (November 2017)