Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 07:42:09 AM
Follow Us On: Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter

An unfolding humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh

By
13th-Oct-2017       
Comments
Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all () »

Poppy McPherson :
In mid-September, several days after arriving in Bangladesh from conflict-torn Western Myanmar, 18-year-old Rashida Begum sat with her baby by the side of the road, under the shade of a tree. She had lost her brother and sister somewhere in the crowd as they fled. Now in Cox's Bazar, she was alone in a sea of thousands. "I have no house, I live in the street like this," she said, as her four-month-old crawled in her lap.
They were waiting not for aid distribution from international agencies - like many Rohingya interviewed by Devex, they said they had received nothing - but for scores of trucks manned by Bangladeshis who tossed snacks and shoes to Rohingya refugees waiting with outstretched arms. The roads were lined with families nestled under tarps. Trampled clothing lay on the ground: the new arrivals needed food, water, and shelter, not T-shirts.
Now, nearly six weeks on from the start of the crisis, conditions in the camps are still being described as chaotic as thousands of exhausted, traumatized Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority, continue to pour in daily, and aid agencies struggle to handle the influx.
While United Nations officials and international NGOs cite the urgent need to "scale up," staff on the ground say the humanitarian response has been hampered by funding shortfalls and bureaucratic obstacles that have left agencies without approval to work and vital supplies stuck in transit.
At a press conference in Cox's Bazar on Tuesday, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, said aid agencies had delivered 9 million food rations over six weeks and inoculated more than 100,000 children, but conditions continued to be "terrible." Now, aid workers fear an outbreak of cholera - endemic in Bangladesh - may be imminent. "We need to do a lot more to scale up beyond what we have done so far," said Lowcock.
"It's an immediate wave, an injection of hundreds of thousands of people in very few days and in an area that is relatively deprived."
An 'unprecedented' crisis
This is a humanitarian crisis that has happened faster, on a greater scale, than most aid workers can remember.  
After August 25, when Rohingya militants attacked police posts across Myanmar's northern Rakhine state and the army responded with a brutal crackdown, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya crossed the border within days. Since then, Rohingya have continued to flee what Amnesty International is calling a "scorched earth campaign" by Myanmar's military, who are accused of mass arson, indiscriminate killings, and rape. The army insists Rohingya militants are urging the exodus as a way to generate sympathy for the population.
More than 500,000 Rohingya are now in Bangladesh, adding to an existing population estimated at more than 300,000.
"This crisis has been one of the fastest displacements that I can remember," said Paolo Lubrano, Oxfam's regional humanitarian manager for Asia. "It's an immediate wave, an injection of hundreds of thousands of people in very few days and in an area that is relatively deprived."
"Back in June I was working on South Sudan, where a million people crossed in two to three years," said Kyle Degraw, Save the Children's global emergency and humanitarian communications manager. "It does feel like a unique crisis just because there are so many people in such a short period of time."
A large proportion of the new arrivals - about 60 percent - are children, many of whom were already severely malnourished before fleeing.
"The humanitarian response has been inadequate, but this crisis is in many ways unprecedented, particularly in the scale of refugee movement in such a short period of time," said Matt Wells, Amnesty International's senior crisis adviser. "The Rohingya are also an extremely vulnerable population, due to the systemic discrimination in Myanmar that has long affected their access to food and medical care, and the fact that many refugees have gone days without eating while hiding and fleeing from the army's attacks," he said.
Challenging logistics
The conditions in Cox's Bazar district, a hilly region prone to landslides and about to enter cyclone season, have presented a unique set of challenges for aid distribution. Last month, a truck carrying relief supplies crashed into paddy field, killing nine Red Cross staff.
There is no single entry point into Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees, who have been arriving overland and by boat.
Groups are spread across a huge area of land. "One of the elements is that most of the displaced people are living in hard-to-reach places and we're just coming out of the rainy season, so logistics is quite challenging," said Lubrano of Oxfam.
The Bangladesh army plans to move more than 800,000 Rohingya into a 3,000-acre "super-camp" currently under construction. The government has signed an agreement with Myanmar to repatriate those who have fled, but expectations are low.
"What for me is important is really raising awareness in the international community of the magnitude of this crisis," said Lubrano. "We have no idea for how long the Rohingya refugees will be in Bangladesh. We have no idea how this response could be sustainable in the long run."
Rohingya refugees crowd the road in Coz's Bazar waiting for food distribution. Photo by: Poppy McPherson
NGO access delayed
For years, Bangladesh has tightly controlled humanitarian access to the Rohingya, who have arrived in waves since the 1970s. They are not officially recognized as refugees, and so the agency tasked with leading the humanitarian response is the International Organization for Migration.  
Since the latest crisis began, scores of agencies have applied to the government for permission to help in the camps, but authorization has been slow to come, meaning some international NGOs have been unable to start work. Medicine and shelter supplies have been stuck in offices and staff grounded.
Dominic Bowen, response and team leader at Medical Teams International, said they had been forced to operate on verbal agreements with government, which could cause problems if staff were stopped at a checkpoint and asked to produce a permit.
"The biggest thing slowing us down is everyone is talking about, 'Are you registered? Can you distribute?'" he said. "And that just prevents NGOs from going larger. It discourages our fundraising departments from going all-in and raising money."
One of MTI's partners had money and shelter for some 4,000 families but are unable to distribute it because official permission has not come through, he said. "They're literally just sitting on their hands," he said.
The delays have mostly affected smaller agencies, but even large NGOs were waiting for approval as recently as this week, Lubrano from Oxfam said. Oxfam was given access in early September, he added, raising funding shortages and capacity as other obstacles. "Visas to work in Bangladesh are one month and there's a bit of turnover that doesn't help the consistency of the response," he said.
On Wednesday there was a meeting between the Inter Sector Coordination Group (which represents UN agencies leading the response) and Bangladesh's NGO Affairs Bureau where the issue of authorization was raised. "The NGO Affairs Bureau has committed to speed up the approval for a number of agencies," said Lubrano.
The bureau did not respond to a request for comment and phone calls to their office went unanswered.
"Historically, the number of registered humanitarian actors in Bangladesh has been limited," said Wells of Amnesty.
"This needs to be scaled up, given the enormity of what Bangladesh and the humanitarian community are responding to. Donor countries should also increase their support and engagement.
"Otherwise, the warning signs are there that this humanitarian crisis will continue to worsen, with a devastating impact on people who have already gone through so much; doctors were already telling me several days ago that they're seeing a spike in serious illness."
The specter of a cholera outbreak now looms large over the camps, where clean water supplies are scarce and many families are drinking out of muddied holes. The U.N. has shipped 900,000 cholera vaccines set to arrive next week, said Jean-Jacques Simon, UNICEF's regional communications chief. But additional doses are needed.
"The biggest need now is definitely water and sanitation and also health care because you've seen over the last few days that there were many thousands of cases of diarrhea, and we are just hoping it will not transform into cholera," he said. "That's the biggest fear in the camps today."
Additional reporting by Belal Uddin Joy.

(Poppy McPherson is a journalist based in Myanmar. She has spent the past five years mainly covering Southeast Asia, most recently focusing on Myanmar and Bangladesh, for the Guardian, Guardian Cities, Buzzfeed, Foreign Policy, Time and others).

Tariff
Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Editorial »

Ekushey tells us to be free and fearless against injustice


THE Nation celebrates 'Amar Ekushey' today with due solemnity and colourful festivities to remember the Martyrs of the 1952 Language Movement. It is a landmark occasion and a day of awakening in the history of Bengali people that gave us the clear realization that we have our own language and ...

Cricket »

Captain of Bangladesh National Cricket (ODI) team Mashrafe Bin Mortaza handing over a crest of honour to Hafiz Yasin Arafat at the Bashundhara International Convention Centre in the city recently. Yasin Arafat became Hafiz-e-Quran in 86 days. He was a student of Tanjimul Ummah Hifz Madrasah of Cox's Bazar. Ahlul Huffaz Foundation Bangladesh arranged the reception programme.


Sports »

Medalists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating (from left) : Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, of France (silver), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada (gold) and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the United States (bronze) pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Tuesday.


International »

Trump backs improved background checks on gun buys


US President Donald Trump signaled support Monday for improving background gun checks amid mounting pressure for reform in the wake of the Florida school shooting, as the accused gunman appeared in court.Nikolas Cruz, charged with killing 17 people, sat silently with his head bowed during a procedural hearing in Fort ...

International »

Nepal wants to deepen ties with China: K P Oli


PTI, Kathmandu : Nepal's new Prime Minister K P Oli has said he wants to deepen ties with China to explore more options and get more leverage in his dealings with India "in keeping with the times". Mr Oli, widely regarded as pro-China, also said he wants to "update" relations with ...

Business & Economy »

M Fakhrul Alam, Managing Director of ONE Bank Limited and Rezaul Islam, General Manager of Bangladesh Bank sign a participatory agreement regarding use of JICA assisted Foreign Direct Investment Promotion Project fund recently. Governor Fazle Kabir, Deputy Governor Abu Hena Moh. Razi Hasan, Executive Director Ahmed Jamal of Bangladesh Bank, chief representatives of JICA Bangladesh office Takatoshi Nishikata and among other were also present on the occasion.


Entertainment »

Inspired by the journey of Deepika and Anushka: Nidhhi Agerwal


Nidhhi Agerwal who hails from Bangalore and is living independently in Mumbai currently believes Deepika and Anushka's journey to the top has inspired her a lot. Just like the other two Bollywood divas, Nidhhi also went through her part of the struggle to make it to Bollywood. The young actress ...

City »

Law enforcers intercepted women leaders and activists of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal when they were going to visit BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia with fruits at Old Dhaka Central Jail on Tuesday.


Sports »

Medalists in the women's 12.5-kilometer mass start biathlon (from right) Belarus' Darya Domracheva (silver), Slovakia's Anastasiya Kuzmina (gold) and Norway's Tiril Eckhoff (bronze) pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Sunday.


Entertainment »

I am very excited about working with Akshay Kumar: Parineeti


Parineeti Chopra, who will be sharing screen space for the first time with Akshay Kumar, says she is excited to work with the superstar in Kesari.The film, being directed by Anurag Singh, will see Akshay essaying the role of Havildar Ishar Singh, while Parineeti plays his wife."(I) am very excited ...

Editorial »

We welcome UK`s removal of ban on direct air cargo


THE UK government has fully withdrawn the two-year-long ban on direct cargo flights from Dhaka to London ending the plight of exporters, particularly garment exporters who were facing difficulty to make emergency shipment of samples and other cargo to buyers within the stipulated time. The British government said it is ...

City »

Buyers flip through the books at a stall of Amar Ekushey Book Fair on Bangla Academy premises in the city on Monday.


International »

Syrian forces to back YPG` in fight against Turkey


Al Jazeera News :The Kurdish YPG fighters claim they have reached a deal to allow Syrian government troops to enter Afrin in the northwestern part of the border town.Nuri Mahmoud, a spokesman for the People's Protection Units (YPG), told Al Jazeera on Monday that they are calling on the Syrian ...

Editorial »

Cleansing operation to stop leakage of question


QUESTION leakage during the ongoing SSC examination showed that the government has no power and the Education Ministry has no control over the corrupt people handling the question papers. So far questions of all 10 tests were openly available around the examination centers in Dhaka city and other places from ...

Sports »

Simidele Adeagbo of Nigeria reacts in the finish area after the final run of the women's skeleton competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Saturday.


 
Items that you save may be read at any time on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
 
Are you new to our website? Do you have already an account at our website?
Create An Account Log in here
Email this news to a friend or like someone
Email:
Write a comment to this news