UNHCR expanding preparations and empowering Rohingya refugees for Bangladesh's monsoons

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees walk through a heavy downpour

Rohingya refugees make their way down a footpath during a heavy monsoon downpour in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh.  © UNHCR/David Azia

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partners are ramping up their emergency preparations and training of Rohingya refugees as first responders ahead of the cyclone and monsoon season in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The first monsoon rains of 2019 are expected in weeks.

Last year’s monsoon season was a major test for humanitarian agencies, working in support of the Government of Bangladesh. Coming on the heels of the fastest growing refugee influx in decades – with more than 740,000 refugees fleeing Myanmar in a matter of months to seek safety in Bangladesh – Rohingya refugees were experiencing their first monsoon season in their place of refuge. Many families had built shelters wherever they could find space, often on steep slopes or areas prone to flash floods from heavy rains, and their immediate safety was at risk.

This year, building on terrain stabilization projects and infrastructure put in place during the 2018 season – including extensive drainage systems, bridges, roads, and upgraded shelters – work is ongoing to further fortify essential infrastructure and strategically pre-position relief items in the refugee settlements. Emergency stocks to deal with pre- and post-disaster situations, equipment, and other essentials are being placed throughout the camps. Evaluations of risk areas are ongoing and mitigation plans and response protocols are under development to reduce the impact of winds and rains.

Nevertheless, refugee lives in the hilly settlements of Cox’s Bazar area remain at risk from potential landslides, flash floods, and the unpredictability of impending cyclones and monsoon rains. The situation requires a robust humanitarian response, centred on the needs of both refugee and Bangladeshi communities.

To that end, UNHCR’s efforts are also focused on training and building the lasting capacity of refugee communities who will be at the centre of any response, including their ability to prepare and respond to natural disasters alongside UNHCR field teams and other humanitarian partners.

Ahead of the rains, refugee Community Outreach Members, trained by UNHCR and partners, are visiting house to house, disseminating information and raising safety and health awareness about how refugee families can better protect themselves.

During the monsoons, trained Safety Unit Volunteers will serve as first responders in any emergency. Volunteer Community Health Workers will focus on providing messages to families on how to prevent the spread of disease and will offer counselling in case of need. Community Groups will also play roles in providing practical assistance to affected families, such as digging out mud from homes and repairing damaged shelters. Refugees will also be trained to help with counselling, temporary evacuation, and reporting incidents. The government’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), the Bangladesh fire department and other partners are all providing additional coaching and drills.

Complimenting these efforts, humanitarian agencies are reactivating programmes to assist in reuniting families after any emergency, as well as providing basic protection, counselling, and assistance where necessary to vulnerable individuals.

Collectively, these refugee volunteers will serve as critical first responders throughout the monsoon and cyclone season, supporting themselves and their communities to repair their settlements and save lives, alongside the active support of Bangladeshi authorities, UNHCR and partners on the ground.

Cox’s Bazar district remains one of Bangladesh’s poorest and most vulnerable districts. Recognizing the generosity of local Bangladeshis communities from the earliest days of the influx, UNHCR and partners also plan to distribute household kits, emergency cash assistance and Liquefied Petroleum Gas canisters for cooking to vulnerable host families.

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