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No child should have to tell this story, but it’s an all-too-familiar one in the Bangladesh refugee settlements, where UNICEF is helping Rohingya survivors of what former United Nations Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority community that has lived for centuries in Myanmar, where they have long suffered persecution. In August 2017, after they became the targets of a military-led campaign of brutal violence, an estimated 900,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh, joining nearly 300,000 people who'd fled Myanmar in a previous exodus. They settled in Cox’s Bazar, where hills were quickly cleared of trees and vegetation to accommodate the massive influx of traumatized families and children.
The deforestation made room for the hastily erected shelters where the Rohingya now live. But it also created conditions that are ripe for disaster now that monsoon season has begun. In the first soaking rains, a 7-year-old boy has reportedly drowned, 11 people were injured and 273 shelters were destroyed.
“The situation in the camps is growing more desperate with every drop of rain that falls,” said Manuel Pereira, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Baza. "You have close to one million people living on hilly, muddy terrain with no trees or shrubs left to hold the ground in place. People and their makeshift shelters are being washed away”
The downpours, winds and landslides are also taking their toll on the infrastructure that UNICEF and partners have built to support the 910,000 people living in the Cox's Bazar. Some 750 UNICEF-supported learning centers have been impacted, putting 60,000 children’s education on hold. Torrential rainfall wholly submerged at least one playground, and families are struggling to remove the mud that landslides have sent pouring into their homes. Water and sanitation facilities, including 600 latrines, have been damaged, increasing the risk of dangerous waterborne diseases.
"Conditions in the camps and host communities are deteriorating rapidly because of the brutal weather, and the humanitarian needs are only likely to grow," said acting UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Alain Balandi Domsam.
The punishing start to monsoon season is daunting, especially given that 30,000 camp residents live in areas prone to flooding and landslides. But UNICEF is doing everything in its power to keep children safe and healthy. Working with partners, UNICEF is helping to repair damaged shelters, restore water and sanitation services and reopen learning centers to get children back to their studies and the routines that make life in the camps bearable. Mobile medical and nutrition teams are on standby to monitor the health of children and mothers.
UNICEF has been working with the Bangladesh government since the crisis began, delivering lifesaving humanitarian relief to Rohingya children as well as those affected who live in Bangladeshi host communities. In 2018, that support included:
UNICEF needs your support to continue that critical work in 2019 and help children survive conditions that can all too quickly turn dangerous now that monsoon season has begun.