An estimated 536,000 people have fled Myanmar and arrived in Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh, over the past 47 days, according to the IOM-hosted Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) of aid agencies. Numbers spiked again this week when some 15,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh between 9-11 October.
“I came here five days ago. Five members of my family, including my pregnant wife are still on the other (Myanmar) side. I’ve talked to them by phone. They had to leave home and are now living in the open on a beach. They said that 8-9,000 people are on the beach waiting for an opportunity to cross,” said Mohammad Yakub, 50, speaking to IOM in Shahporir Dwip, a Bangladeshi island in the Naf river close to the border between the two countries.
The speed and scale of the influx has triggered a humanitarian emergency in Cox’s Bazar, where close to three quarters of a million refugees now depend on humanitarian assistance for shelter, food, water, sanitation and other life-saving needs. Prior to the August influx, Cox’s Bazar was already hosting over 200,000 previously displaced Rohingya, placing the district’s infrastructure and basic services under immense strain.
Earlier this week ISCG aid agencies appealed for USD 434 million as part of a 6-month Humanitarian Response Plan targeting 1.2 million people, including the Rohingya refugees and 300,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis living in host communities in Cox’s Bazar.
“The seriousness of the situation cannot be over-emphasized. These people are malnourished and there is insufficient access to clean water and sanitation in many of the spontaneous sites. They are highly vulnerable. They have fled conflict, experienced severe trauma and are now living in extremely difficult conditions,” said IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Sarat Dash.
Many of the new arrivals require immediate health assistance and agencies have appealed for USD 48 million to scale up primary health care in all the new settlements over the next six months.
“The risk of an outbreak of communicable disease is very high given the crowded living conditions and the lack of adequate clean water and sanitation. Maternal, newborn and child health care are also in desperately short supply given the very high numbers of pregnant or lactating women and children among the new arrivals,” said IOM Senior Regional Health Officer Patrick Duigan.
Since 25 August, ISCG agencies have provided over 210,000 people with healthcare assistance. Health partners are supporting the district health department with 12 medical teams in the new influx areas of Teknaf and Ukhia sub-districts. Nine health centers have also been established in remote, hard-to-reach areas of the new settlements.
Some 35,500 children between the age of 5 – 15 years have been vaccinated against measles and rubella, and over 72,000 children between the age of 0 – 5 have been vaccinated against polio and received Vitamin A supplementation. An oral cholera vaccination campaign targeting the entire population also began this week.
Almost all of the refugees arrive with virtually nothing and need tarpaulins for shelter, as well as non-food items (NFI) such as clothing, mosquito nets, cooking sets, soap and blankets. As of last week, some 288,000 people have received emergency shelter assistance and 54,000 NFI assistance since 25 August. Over 17,000 households have received acute emergency kits including one tarpaulin per family of five. Over 2,500 households received have received two tarpaulins and 5,000 have received blankets and sleeping mats.
The massive increase in the number of people in multiple sites is also overwhelming existing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities. WASH sector agencies believe that some 750,000 people out of the 1.2 million people targeted by the response plan will need WASH assistance in the next six months.
Since 25 August, over 333,000 people have been reached with WASH assistance, but agencies believe that almost same number of people are still in immediate need of WASH services. Collectively, the sector has installed 3,249 tube wells, but there are concerns about the quality of the wells and whether they are too shallow, given falling water tables.
Some 8,100 emergency latrines have also been built, but the fill rate currently exceeds the construction rate. This is being is compounded by the shortage of land and a lack of sewage management infrastructure. WASH agencies say that USD 74 million is needed to meet WASH needs through February 2018.