IRIN: Heavy Rains a 'Huge Wake-Up Call' to Vulnerable Rohingya

June 21, 2018

By Dene-Hern Chen
with contributions from Abu Rehan

A Rohingya man climbs on a stack of bamboo poles to select one to rebuild his house. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

A Rohingya man climbs on a stack of bamboo poles to select one to rebuild his house. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

The first heavy rainfall of this year’s monsoon season has exposed new cracks in the fragile refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, which are now home to roughly 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. A half-metre deluge over Cox’s Bazar earlier this month – two thirds of the area’s average precipitation for the month in only five days – wrecked homes and access roads faster than aid responders could handle.

With the heaviest monsoon season rains expected in July, aid groups and Rohingya refugees say the extensive damage in the camps is an urgent warning of the need to relocate tens of thousands still living in the most vulnerable areas.

“It’s a huge wake-up call,” said Caroline Gluck, spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “Personally, I didn’t expect to see as much damage at this stage as we’ve seen, but the amount of water has been massive.”

Accompanying that water were gusts of wind that rattled the walls of bamboo and tarpaulin homes from 9-13 June. Toyeba, 60, and her husband worked frantically to block the torrential downpour from rushing inside theirs. Then the landslide hit.

“All I felt was the pain in my chest and my back,” the mother of two said. Submerged to her waist in dense, wet soil, Toyeba fainted as her family and friends scrambled to dig her out.

Toyeba’s neighbour, Mohammad Ibrahim, who was on slightly higher ground, said the mudslide missed his home and slammed straight into Toyeba’s hut.

“We had to hack at the bamboo around her to free her,” he said, explaining that the whole ordeal took roughly 40 minutes. “After a while, we didn’t want to use the axe anymore because we were worried we might accidentally hurt her. We started using our hands; the mud was just so dense and heavy.”

Read more at IRIN