This is a story no child should tell. Yet, it’s an all-too-familiar one in the Bangladesh refugee settlements, where UNICEF is helping Rohingya survivors of what UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has deemed “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Now, Umme and more than 520,000 vulnerable Rohingya children like her are living in the path of a looming threat. With monsoon season approaching, the overcrowded camps they call home could be swept away.
Situated on land cleared for the influx of 390,000 Rohingya since August, the refugees' new homes are tents perched on barren hillsides that the coming rains will turn to mud. Landslides could claim countless lives, and severe flooding destroy the camps’ fragile sanitation infrastructure, contaminating the water supply. For families living in cramped quarters, cholera outbreaks and other waterborne illnesses are all too likely. (Continued below.)
UNICEF is now mobilizing to keep Rohingya children safe, healthy and dry during cyclone season. Vital infrastructure is being reinforced and medical supplies prepositioned to handle the rise of illnesses like cholera — an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill a child within hours if not treated. The water supply is being treated, and supplies families will need to keep their water safe and clean — hygiene kits, water purification tablets, chlorine, soap and buckets — stockpiled. Vaccination teams are administering the oral cholera vaccine to 1.1 million people, and community volunteers are fanning out to educate families about how to protect themselves.
But it’s a race against time to spare Umme and Rohingya refugee children like her another fight for their lives.
“I’ve been in some difficult places,” says Martin Worth, UNICEF’s Head of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. “But this could get so much worse. What is already a dire humanitarian situation could become a catastrophe.”