UNFPA and partners are working around the clock to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in the sprawling camps of southern Bangladesh, as they brace for monsoon cyclones, wind and rains that tear across the country for around four months each year.
Over 700,000 Rohingya refugees, more than half women and girls, have arrived in Bangladesh from neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August 2017, swelling the population of the makeshift camps to well over 1.3 million.
Thousands suffered severe trauma, including witnessing the murder of loved ones, the burning of their homes and villages, sexual violence and other acts of brutality, before fleeing on the often long and treacherous journey to reach relative safety in Bangladesh.
With most of the Rohingya holed up in flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin tents on hillsides, the first rains of the season, arriving on April 18th, have renewed fears of mudslides, infections and water-borne diseases.
The arrival of the relentless South Asian monsoon is set to pile more misery onto the beleaguered people, by ripping at their flimsy homes and turning their temporary neighbourhoods into muddy, slippery swamps.
Planning ahead, the government, with UN support, have begun the voluntary relocation of those facing the greatest risk of floods and landslides to safer, even ground.
Yet the sheer scale of the crisis makes it impossible to move everyone, so the UN and partners are working feverishly to brick paths, build drains, sandbag stairs and strengthen shelters throughout the camps.
UNFPA runs nineteen Women Friendly Spaces across the many camps in southern Bangladesh, where trained professionals offer counselling, support, recovery and referral services to vulnerable women, including survivors of, or are at risk of suffering from, gender-based violence.
Yet for now, staff are offering training and information sessions to help women prepare for nature’s oncoming onslaught.
Learn how to recognise the warning signals and sirens, where to seek help, staying together as a family, how to protect their possessions from water, care for pregnant women and those who are unwell.
Waving her arms wildly, a woman at an information session on April 18th showed how the plastic roof her of shelter rattles around in the wind. “At home we had sturdy, safe houses, so I’m learning a lot here,” she says. In response, a UNFPA case worker confirmed that shelters in need of repair are being sought out and strengthened.
Meanwhile, UNFPA’s engineers and partners have scoured for safer areas to where at-risk Women Friendly Space tents can be relocated, and are working to buttress those structures that will remain where they stand, as the safety of women and girls is paramount for the organisation.
UNFPA’s response to the crisis
Since the onset of the crisis, UNFPA has stood up for the sexual and reproductive health and the dignity of women and girls affected, including pregnant and lactacting women, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Since August 2017:
Over 110,000 women and girls have received UNFPA’s Trademark Dignity Kits, that contain vital health, hygiene, safety and sanitary products for women and girls in caught up in emergencies. Over 180,000 visits to UNFPA’s Women Friendly Spaces have taken place and almost 120,000 women have attended information sessions. More than 250,000 women and girls have been screened by UNFPA-deployed midwives and reproductive health workers. 72,000 women have received vital ante-natal care. UNFPA is truly grateful for the support from all of our donors, that make our crucial, life-saving work possible.