United Nations (UN) Agencies have been working around the clock to repair damage, temporarily relocate affected refugees, and activate disaster response plans following eight days of unrelenting rain and wind – the most severe weather since the massive Rohingya refugee influx of 2017.
Between 4 and 12 July, 709mm of rain fell in parts of the Kutupalong refugee settlement, out of a July average of about 1040mm for Cox’s Bazar. A combination of landslides, floods and wind has damaged or destroyed hundreds of structures and temporarily displaced thousands of refugees. About 5% of the nearly one million residents in Cox’s Bazar were directly impacted. Although smaill in percentage terms, its effect on already-vulnerable refugees has been significant.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and World Food Programme (WFP) have dispatched staff, partners, and refugee volunteers to relocate vulnerable persons to safety, provide extra emergency food assistance and repair damaged buildings, roads and slope reinforcements.
Under the overall leadership of the Government of Bangladesh, UN Agencies and partners work year-round with refugees to prepare for the monsoon and cyclone seasons. This includes a large-scale programme to upgrade shelters and infrastructure, distribute and preposition emergency supplies, and train the community in reducing the risk of disaster.
The refugees themselves are playing a central role in mitigating and responding to the effects of the monsoon through awareness raising, pre-emptive hazard identification, disaster risk reduction works in the camps and as first responders in Disaster Management Units and other community volunteer programs.
Efforts throughout 2018 and early 2019 have dramatically improved conditions in the refugee sites and aid organisations are well-equipped to respond; however, this is still an emergency affecting vulnerable families living in a difficult, hazard-prone terrain that requires ongoing support from the international community and constant work by humanitarian actors.
“The current storm system appears to have weakened, but we are only halfway through the 2019 monsoon season and the response to adverse weather conditions has already begun to exceed what was needed in 2018. With only one-third of funding requirements met for this year, the response to the Rohingya crisis requires substantially more commitment both financially and politically from the international community,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, Deputy Head of Mission for Bangladesh.
“With the physical foundations for emergency response in place from 2018, our strategy rests on placing refugee communities at the centre of the response, rooted in trained refugee volunteers’ own capacities, self-reliance, and ability to raise awareness and act as first responders,” said Marin Din Kajdomcaj, UNHCR Head of Operations and Sub-Office in Cox’s Bazar. “Together with the Bangladesh government, sister UN agencies, and partners, the monsoon response to date has demonstrated that this community-centric approach, underpinned by critical infrastructure improvements and multi-functional Emergency Response Teams, is functioning rapidly and well to keep refugees healthy and safe.”
“WFP has already provided significantly more rapid response food assistance due to the rains than we did for the entire month of July 2018, indicating the impact this monsoon has already had,” added Mr Richard Ragan, WFP Representative to Bangladesh. “Engineering teams have also been busier this year, responding to multiple landslides and racing to repair slopes. A tremendous amount of engineering work has been done over the past 18 months which has mitigated the impact of this rainfall event, however there is near constant work that needs to be done to make the camps safer which requires ongoing resourcing and manpower.”
Cox’s Bazar lies in a coastal area especially prone to extreme weather events including cyclones. In addition to providing direct support, UN Agencies have focussed on training refugees as first-responders through Disaster Management Units under the Cyclone Preparedness Programme and have extended support to Bangladeshi host communities. While this has significantly reduced
the overall monsoon impact, recent developments demonstrate that more resourcing is needed to continue to strengthen capacity among the refugee population.