Muslim Times(Web Desk) – The persecuted Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state who live in denuded hills in southern Bangladesh hope that the sandbags fortifying the slopes will survive the upcoming monsoon.
The Rohingya camps are clustered in a part of the country that records the highest rainfall. Most now live in flimsy, bamboo-and-plastic structures perched on what were once forested hills.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the rains typically begin in April and peak in July.
The Rohingya refugees who live in shacks clinging to these steep hills say cracks have already formed in the packed mud on which their shacks are built.
“They make it safer, but they won’t hold if the rain is really heavy,” media outlets quoted Mohammed Hares, a young refugee as saying.
Arafa Begum, 40, who lives with her three children in a shack on a barren, vertiginous slope in Chakmakul camp said that she wanted to move before the monsoon.
“This was a forest when I first arrived,” she said, adding, “I don’t know what I’ll do when the rain comes,” he said, adding, “It depends on Allah.”
Trees were cut down to make way for the refugees, making the slopes even weaker and prone to collapse. The risk of landslides has been exacerbated by refugee families needing firewood to cook.
In addition to that, flooding also increases the risk of disease outbreaks. It could also threaten access to medical facilities. Latrines, washrooms and tube wells may also be flooded.
Computer modeling by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that over 100,000 refugees will be threatened by floods and landslides in the coming monsoon.
UNHCR spokeswoman Caroline Gluck say the refugee agency along International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Food Programme are using bulldozers to level 123 acres in northern Kutupalong-Balukhali camp in an effort to make the area safer.
According to the UNHCR, in Kutupalong-Balukhali, the biggest of the makeshift camps, flooding can leave more than 85,000 refugees homeless. Another 23,000 refugees live on slopes at risk of landslide.
Bangladesh Disaster Management Secretary Shah Kamal said the government was working with the UN to relocate 133,000 people living in high-risk areas.
In a separate development, Mia Seppo, the UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh said on Sunday that nearly $1 billion will be needed this year to feed and care for the roughly one million Rohingya refugees living in overcrowded camps.
Seppo added that the $950 million for this year’s aid effort was “a very legitimate and valid” request given the magnitude of the crisis. “It’s a new and evolving crisis. The needs are huge. These people came with nothing. We hope the support will continue.”
The funding request could be raised this week at a UN conference in the Swiss city of Geneva.
In October, the UN said it needed $434 million to care for the displaced Muslims until February.
The UN-backed Inter Sector Coordination Group has also factored into the relief budget the cost of mass vaccination drives against diseases like cholera, diphtheria and measles.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement late last year to repatriate about 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have crossed the border since August to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.
The repatriation was delayed due to a lack of preparation as well as protests staged by Rohingya refugees against the plan to send them back to Myanmar while conditions were not safe for their return.
Myanmar’s government troops have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out arson attacks in Muslim villages in Rakhine over the past months.
The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations but are denied citizenship and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.
The UN has also described the 1.1-million-strong Muslim community as the most persecuted minority in the world.