On August 25, 2017, an outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State drove a massive number of Rohingya men, women, and children to flee across the border into Bangladesh at an alarming speed and scale. Since then, the United Nations estimates that 688,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived to the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh in just 180 days, most of them traumatized, extremely vulnerable, and totally dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival.
Most of the refugees are children, some unaccompanied, and thus are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, exploitation, and abuse.
With the heavy wind and rains of monsoon season approaching fast, Action Against Hunger and the humanitarian community are racing to provide health services, food, safe water, sanitation, and shelter to the most vulnerable families. We are working to prevent major outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and diphtheria, which are a significant threat in the overcrowded refugee settlements.
Although the government of Bangladesh, along with the UN Refugee Agency and the humanitarian community, has mobilized a massive response to this crisis, the needs of the Rohingya refugee population are enormous and overwhelming. Action Against Hunger is one of the leading aid agencies responding to the crisis in Cox’s Bazar, prioritizing programs to deliver food assistance, provide lifesaving treatment to acutely malnourished children, and help refugees recover.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: MEETING URGENT NEEDS
The needs are tremendous and no single organization can adequately address this crisis. Action Against Hunger is working in partnership with the World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency, and we have been able to provide most newly arriving refugees with food and other essential services at least once a day.
Since the onset of the crisis, Action Against Hunger has reached 620,000 refugees. Every day, our team of more than 700 humanitarian staff—and more than 1,000 local volunteers—are providing the most vulnerable refugees with daily hot meals, food rations, safe water, sanitation, mental health “first aid,” and lifesaving treatment for acutely malnourished children.
Nutrition and Health
Action Against Hunger teams have provided health screenings to more than 360,000 children under 5 years old, and we have referred more than 10,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition for admission into our emergency nutrition programs for lifesaving treatment.
Action Against Hunger’s Assistant Program Manager for Nutrition and Health, Abadallah, is responsible for screening children for acute malnutrition. Since the onset of the crisis, he has screened as many as 800 children a day. "Some children are so malnourished they have lost 35 to 45 percent of their body weight,” says Abadallah. “When the children arrive here, we can often see their spine and their ribs.”
Abadallah has been helping Action Against Hunger improve nutrition among children in Bangladesh for three years, but he has never seen such overwhelming needs. Abadallah says, "I think of my life and the fact that I have enough food and a comfortable place to sleep. These people have so little. They suffer."
HOT MEALS AND FOOD RATIONS
A few steps away from where Abadallah works, our community volunteer, Rohima, works to cook daily hot meals for children and vulnerable pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in a community kitchen set up by Action Against Hunger. Rohima starts work before 6am: she and the other volunteers must cook to provide a hot meal to thousands of people every day. Since August 25, 2017, Action Against Hunger has provided more than 3 million hot meals to newly arrived refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
Every morning, Rohima cleans the kitchen, then lights the burners under the huge water tanks to begin cooking huge quantities of "khichuri," a dish made with rice, lentils, spices, garlic, tomato, and pumpkin.
The heat of the kitchen and the physical labor of producing such large quantities of food are exhausting. Rohima, who lives in a nearby town called Ukhia, was compelled to volunteer her time to do anything she could to help. She says, “I suffer to see so many hungry people among the newcomers, but I am proud to be part of the Action Against Hunger team. It is a noble cause."
ADDRESSING THE INVISIBLE WOUNDS OF VIOLENCE
Action Against Hunger’s trained mental health specialists have provided counseling and services to address the psychosocial needs of more than 200,000 traumatized children, mothers, and other extremely vulnerable refugees who have experienced violence and persecution.
Action Against Hunger’s Mental Health and Care Practices Assistant Project Manager, Tannuba, works in a “parent-child space” she and her team set up in one of the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar. Tannuba helps Rohingya children cope with the stress, anxiety, fear, and trauma that threaten their well-being and health.
Children who have witnessed or been victims of violence often relive the events. Tannuba says, “Our approach to helping children overcome their trauma must be very gentle. When kids come here for the first time, it is important to establish a relationship with them so that when they come back, they feel safe, and start to relax in that space. We play fun games to help them forget their fears.”
WATER, SANITATION, AND HYGIENE
Ritop, Action Against Hunger’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program Manager, has helped our teams distribute more than 6 million liters of drinking water to refugees in Cox’s Bazar over the past six months.
As part of his daily routine, Ritop coordinates the distribution of water to people living in makeshift settlements, a task that involves sourcing and delivering 5,000 2-liter bottles of clean water every day to meet people’s urgent needs.
Ritop and his team are also working to improve sanitation to reduce the risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the overcrowded settlements. The needs are overwhelming, but Ritop says, "I am happy to serve as I can. We are all human beings, and we have the responsibility to help the most vulnerable. "