DHAKA — Several days of torrential rain have exacerbated the suffering of Rohingya refugees living in camps on hilly terrain in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar District, leaving at least one dead and damaging or destroying more than a thousand makeshift shelters.
Senior disaster management officials are supervising preparedness efforts as rescue teams stand by and public announcements continue to advise the roughly 1 million refugees in the camps, about 700,000 of who arrived since the latest outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August.
The hilly terrain in and around the camps has been making it difficult to find flat land on which to relocate at-risk families.
Md Shamsudduza, the Bangladeshi government’s refugee relief and repatriation additional commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that more than 1,000 thatch or tarpaulin shelters in the camps have been completely or partially damaged. But he said authorities were now “less worried” because there have been no reported landslides.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), however, said the heavy rains that started Saturday have been triggering landslides and floods and that the situation in the camps was getting worse
“The situation in the camps is deteriorating as the rain continues. We are on high alert today for possible evacuations to higher ground as conditions may significantly worsen tomorrow,” Manuel Pereira, emergency coordinator for the IOM in Cox’s Bazar, was quoted as saying in a press release on Tuesday.
The IOM said aid agencies have reported over 2,350 damaged or destroyed shelters.
The aid agencies also report that more than 21,500 people have been affected, a number expected to rise as the rains continue. Incidents are being mapped and shared on an interagency platform.
Local residents said they heard public announcements warning people to stay on flat land and to avoid shelters built on slopes.
“The announcement also asks guardians to keep their children away from flash floods,” said Mohib Ullah, a Bangladeshi who often visits the camps for business.
On Monday evening, a 20-year-old refugee, Muhammad Ali, died after a log fell on him in the Balukhali camp and a 2-year-old boy, Sulatan Ahmed, was killed in the Kutupalong camp when a mud wall of a shelter collapsed, according to local police.
“Besides the two incidents, no causalities have been reported, and none due to landslides,” said Cox’s Bazar District deputy police chief Afruzul Haque Tutul.
But he said a number of fishing boats that had gone out to sea were still missing and the people onboard were feared dead.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the 24-hour weather forecast as of 6 p.m. Tuesday predicted that a southwesterly monsoon would continue to advance over Bangladesh. The monsoon is already over Chattogram, Barishal and Sylhet divisions.
A department report said the monsoon was currently “moderate to strong” over the north of the Bay of Bengal and that nearly 500 millimeters of rain have fallen in the Cox’s Bazar area since Sunday.
“We can hardly go out of our house because the rain is so heavy,” said Nurul Hoque, a Rohingya refugee In the Kutupalang camp.
In a statement from Geneva on Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the rains were an early test for aid agencies helping the Bangladeshi government cope with the monsoon season in the camps.
It said torrential rains and winds of up to 70 kph have caused at least 89 reported incidents, including 37 landslides. The incidents have affected 11,000 people and caused several injuries and one confirmed death, it added.
The UNHCR said more than 1,000 shelters have been damaged, along with 10 water points, 167 latrines, one health facility, and one food distribution site.
The rains have also flooded the main road through the Kutupalong camp, temporarily blocking vehicle access to parts of the site.
Based on aerial mapping of the camps, the UNHCR estimates that up to 200,000 refugees could be at risk of landslides and floods and should be moved to safer areas. Of the 200,000, it says 41,000 are at high risk of landslides.
More than 14,000 high-risk refugees have been relocated so far.
“Saving lives is our priority. We must make sure people are safe,” said Alessandro Petrone, an IOM program manager. “Our other concern is funding. IOM and our partners urgently need financial support to meet the needs on the ground and to maintain and expand key humanitarian services and operations during this critical time.”