Alongside refugees, UNHCR and partners respond to fire incident in Camp 5 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
COX'S BAZAR – A fire broke out in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in the afternoon of 8 March, home to the largest refugee settlement in the world. One four-year-old refugee child died from the blaze which occurred in Camp 5, a UNHCR managed camp. One person was sent to hospital due to smoke inhalation but is now in a stable condition. Initial analysis of the damage suggests the incident fully or partially destroyed some 400 shelters and facilities including two learning centres, a water distribution network, several WASH facilities and one UNHCR-supported primary healthcare centre.
Refugee volunteers trained in firefighting were the first responders, along with UNHCR partner organisations, starting to extinguish the fire until the local fire department and authorities arrived and contained the blaze before it could spread to adjacent camps. The Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar district and the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) visited the site immediately following the fire, together with Camp in Charges (CiCs), UNHCR, BRAC and Rohingya volunteers.
Immediately after the outbreak of the fire, UNHCR has been working closely with its partners and local authorities to coordinate the emergency response. An emergency help desk was opened by UNHCR and BRAC in Camp 5 to provide information and assistance to affected refugees, including immediate health needs and psychosocial support. UNHCR partners mobilized more than fifty community health workers to deliver first aid and disseminate essential information. Affected refugees received high energy biscuits from the World Food Programme (WFP) and safe temporary shelters were arranged for them in community centres, or with friends and relatives. The RRRC office, with the support of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), has been distributing emergency shelter tents. Efforts are ongoing to reunite 26 children who were separated from their caregivers with their families.
This is the sixth fire incident in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar since the beginning of this year. The materials used for building temporary shelters make them highly susceptible to fire and the humanitarian community continues to advocate for the use of better fire-resistant shelter materials. The rapid and effective response has shown how a high level of preparedness of authorities, humanitarian actors and the refugee community are key to avoid or mitigate any potential large-scale damage caused by fires or other natural hazards. Authorities and humanitarian partners continuously train and inform the refugee community on fire prevention and fire safety practices, while emergency response mechanisms are regularly reviewed and tested.
UNHCR is leading a multi-sector needs assessment, in coordination with relevant partners, to assess the extent of the damage after which further information and updated figures will be available. The assessment will inform and prioritize the multi-sector response. From today, UNHCR and the NGO Forum is providing potable water and WFP is distributing hot meals to affected refugees.
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