Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Logo
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 02:43:53 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

International »

Russia accuses US coalition of decimating Raqqa


Al Jazeera News :Russia has accused the US-led coalition of bombing the Syrian city of Raqqa "off the face of the Earth," in the same way the Allied powers bombed Germany's Dresden during World War II.Russia's Defence Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that 200,000 people lived in Raqqa ...

Editorial »

Proper management of medical waste


RECKLESSLY handling of medical waste is posing serious threat to public health due to presence of infectious materials. It is directly causing infections to human beings and animals and also polluting air and water to make life unsafe. The medical waste disposal system in most public and private hospitals is ...

Football »

Archery to get City Group patronized


With a view to win a medal in the Olympic Games Tokyo-2020 Bangladesh Archery Federation signed a deal with City Group, the manufacturer of 'Teer' products, at the BOA auditorium on Monday.As per the deal, Bangladesh Archery Federation will receive an amount of Taka 1.80 crore per annum from the ...

Entertainment »

Rajkummar Rao literally breaks a leg


Actor Rajkummar Rao who was shooting for Farah Khan’s TV show Lip Sing Battle has fractured his leg on the set. Farah Khan is the host of the show in which celebrities compete with each other in lip sync battle and this time Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon were competing ...

City »

Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Akhtaruzzaman visited round the art exhibition titled `Jalkely` at Zainul Gallery of the Fine Arts Faculty of DU after inaugurating it on Monday.


Editorial »

Govt can`t pay for losing jute mills


 A LEADING daily reported Sunday that the Textiles and Jute Ministry has demanded to the Finance Ministry for allocating Tk 800 crore in loan so that it can pay workers and employees of state-owned jute mills the allowances that remained overdue for years. The jute industry is a losing concern ...

Sports »

National senior Table Tennis begins tomorrow


The 37th National senior Table Tennis Championship will be beginning on Tuesday (October 24) at Shaheed Tajuddin Wooden Floor gymnasium in the city with the participation of 45 teams. Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed is expected to inaugurate the six-day meet as chief guest. A total of 240 players - 180 ...

Sports »

Steffi Graf (left) and Andre Agassi arrive for the David Foster Foundation 30th Anniversary Miracle Gala and Concert, in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday.


Entertainment »

Shraddha Kapoor sprains her foot due to exertion


Shraddha Kapoor who has been on a rigorous shooting schedule for her next film Saaho along with the Bahubali actor Prabhas, injured her ankle due to over exertion. The actress is also simultaneously prepping up for the Saina Nehwal biopic besides shooting for Saaho in Hyderabad. Shraddha recently uploaded a ...

City »

Speakers at a press conference organised by Citizens for Good Governance in DRU auditorium on Sunday in protest against proposal for the cancellation of pledge by poll candidates.


International »

ISIS` end `in sight`, says Trump after historic Raqa victory


AFP, Washington :US President Donald Trump said Saturday a transition can soon begin to set conditions for lasting peace in Syria now that the end of the ISIS "caliphate is in sight" with the fall of Raqa.The United States and its allies will support diplomatic negotiations "that end the violence, ...

Editorial »

Rains halt life: City fathers cannot cope, govt too happy with lies of success


WATERLOGGING has long been an inevitable part of our urban scenario that causes immense suffering to the city dwellers almost all the year round. After torrential rain, most parts of Dhaka, Chittagong, and other major cities go under knee-to-waist-deep water for several hours to few days. Despite, pouring millions of ...

Sports »

Injury ends Tamim's SA tour


Left handed opener Tamim Iqbal has been ruled out of the South Africa tour after aggravating a thigh injury. The 28-year-old opener is expected to return home tomorrow (Sunday) and will not be part of third ODI and the upcoming two-match T20Is series. The dashing opener sustained the injury to ...

Entertainment »

Have Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif fallen back in love?


They're one of the most loved on-screen couples of our times. Ever since Salman Khan introduced Katrina Kaif to Bollywood, his influence on her career has been immense. He's always looked after her and she's always sought advice from him. Even though either of them never made it public, it ...

Entertainment »

What happened when Aaradhya Bachchan met Rekha?


The Ambani's love throwing 'em lavish parties at their Mumbai residence Antilla. And off late, they've been throwing one party after another for our Bollywood celebs. Be it Ganpati or Diwali… the best of Bollywood heads to South Mumbai for the lavish festivities.  A tad late but an insider present ...

 
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