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Aid bodies have food, shelter for only a third of Rohingyas

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Plight of women, children worsens

A Rohingya refugee shelters from the sun under an umbrella while lookingon at the refugee camp of Balukhali, near the locality of Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar yesterday. Two of the main pre-existing Rohingya settlements in Kutupalong and Balukhali have effectively merged into one densely populated mega-settlement of nearly 500,000 refugees, making it one of the largest refugee concentrations in the world. AFP photo
Publication Date: 22 September, 2017 00:00 00 AM 
Media: The Independent
Original Link: Aid bodies have food, shelter for only a third of Rohingyas
E-paper Link: Aid bodies have food, shelter for only a third of Rohingyas

Although more than 422,000 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh fleeing from a recent spell of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 25, aid agencies could manage to finalise shelter and food plans for only about one-third of them. Women and children have remained the worst sufferers in this ongoing crisis. The World Food Programme (WFP), one of the key UN organisations providing food to Rohingyas, said it was trying to feed 150,000 refugees in the first phase, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it would arrange shelter kits for 120,000 Rohingyas, though 422,000 had entered Bangladesh.

The Inter-Service Coordination Group (ISCG), compromising inter-government organisations, is working to arrange food and shelter for the Rohingyas.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is coordinating the Crisis Group, said only 16,000 shelter kits have been distributed so far, even though 326,000 people now need emergency shelter.

Contacted, Joseph Tripura, spokesman of the UNHCR, told The Independent: “We primarily plan to distribute 120,000 shelter kits. We’ve already started distribution. On Thursday, two air cargoes arrived with kits.”

The ISCG report says that only 959,522 daily food rations are being provided against a demand of 3,920,000 such rations.

Contacted, Maherin Ahmed, communication officer of the WFP, told The Independent: “When people arrive exhausted and hungry, WFP provides them with emergency high-energy biscuits until they are registered to receive regular food rations for the coming months. So far, we’ve provided rice rations to around 126,000 people and many others are receiving WFP food at soup kitchens. WFP plans to provide food to more than 400,000 people who have crossed the border from Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar since 25 August.”

“WFP needs at least USD 20.8 million to scale up assistance to those seeking shelter in the camps for the next six months,” she added.

International medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said a massive scale-up of humanitarian aid in Bangladesh is needed to avoid a massive public health disaster following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Most of the newly arrived refugees have moved into makeshift settlements without adequate access to shelter, food, clean water, or latrines, it said. Two of the main pre-existing settlements in Kutupalong and Balukhali have effectively merged into one densely populated mega-settlement of nearly 500,000 refugees, making it one of the largest refugee concentrations in the world.

“These settlements are essentially rural slums that have been built on the side of the only two-lane road that runs  through this part of the district,” says Kate White, MSF’s emergency medical coordinator.

“There are no roads in or out of the settlement, making aid delivery very difficult. The terrain is hilly and prone to landslides, and there is a complete absence of latrines. When you walk through the settlement, you have to wade through streams of dirty water and human faeces.”

With little potable water available, people are drinking water collected from paddy fields, puddles, or hand-dug shallow wells which are often contaminated with excreta.

Bangladesh government officials working in Cox’s Bazar for the Rohingyas said international organisations are making the maximum effort to provide food and shelter to the refugees.

Two newly arrived Rohingyas—Bashir and Abdul Hai—were found waiting in a line where cooked food was being distributed at Kutuplaong in Ukhiya, though they did not have any token.

“I’m very hungry. I came to Bangladesh 12 days ago. I don’t know where tokens are given. We didn’t get anything, but those who came long ago are getting all food and token. I’m standing in the line in the hope of getting a meal,” said Abdul Hai.

Bashir echoed Abdul’s words.

An ISCG draft report says that since many Rohingyas are putting up in makeshift shelters in remote places, it is becoming difficult to give them the desired level of relief.

The problem of reaching them is being compounded by the absence of local aid agencies, it adds.

The report also says the Rohingyas are staying at 12 different places and in houses of local people.

According to the ISCG report, 158,334 newly arrived Rohingyas had taken shelter at six makeshift settlements in Balukhali, Kutupalong, Leda, Nayapara and Shamnlapur. About 21,000 were in local people’s homes.

Women’s suffering mounts

In the meantime, the plight of Rohingya women and children is only becoming worse in the absence of adequate reliefs and healthcare.

Many expectant and lactating mothers have to stand in the relief lines or on the streets for long hours in the hope of getting a little food.

According to the ISCG, about 170,000 women and children have been suffering from malnutrition as well as physical and mental trauma.

Women suffer the most while trying to get relief materials and medical care. About 14,000 pregnant women are in need of mental care, with 50 per cent of them having complicated pregnancies.

On Wednesday evening, Nasima Begum, 61, was sitting  with a sack of 25 kg of rice beside the distribution room of WFP at Naya Para of Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar. She had stood in the dirt from 11am to 3:30pm before she could collect the grain with her token. Then, she had to walk with that heavy load for at least two kilometres to her makeshift shelter in Dumdumia.

Nasima said her three sons—Sultan, Ehsan Ullah and Mujibullah—were picked up by Myanmarese forces at night. They were shot and stabbed to death.

She could speak no more as tears trickled down her cheeks. It took her a while to collect herself.

“Now, I have three minor girls. My husband, Fazlul Haque, is physically disabled. Left with no option, we came here. I don’t know how to carry this sack to the camp. My family is waiting for me there. We didn’t have any food,” she said.

At the same relief spot, eight-month-pregnant Noor Hasina had come looking for help. “I stood in the line for the relief in the morning. When I got the relief sack, it was 5:00pm.”

On the way to Ukhiya and Teknaf, thousands of such helpless women seem to pose a question mark about the state of civilization in modern world.

Taslima Begum, 30, a seven-month-pregnant woman who came to the temporary medical camp at Balukhali from the Thangkhali makeshift camp without any male member of her family, had walked two kilometres. “The Myanmarese military killed my husband. Local vigilantes burned down our home and looted valuables. With the help of our relatives, we managed to cross the border one week ago. We spent a week on the way. My two children are suffering from severe skin diseases,” she said.

In the Balukhali camp, AZM Zahid Hossain, general secretary of the Doctors’ Association of Bangladesh, has been treating the newly arrived Rohingyas for a week. “Many expectant mothers, newborns and lactating mothers are coming here for treatment. They are exposed to serious health risks.”

“The children and women are mostly suffering from physical and mental trauma. They need better treatment,” he added. The ISCG report says they were able to provide healthcare to only 52,482 such women against the huge number of 400,000. It also says comprehensive healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, gender-based violence case management, and mental health and psychological support needs, should be scaled up.

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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