Kutupalong Chronicles: floods and landslides leave 5 million homeless in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh

Floods are a window on the extreme vulnerability of Rohingya refugees as climate change combined with massive cuts in Aid wreak havoc on their lives. How much more can be endured? What is the cost of our indifference? This piece was written by Professor Marie Gillespie from The Open University.

Since 27 July 2021, the Covid Chronicles project team has been receiving heartbreaking WhatsApp texts, photos and videos from refugee friends in Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh. Floods and landslides have destroyed tens of thousands of shelters, killed 6 people and left 5 million homeless.

Photo courtesy of MHZ

Warnings are not new. For example, in July 2019 the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep worry that monsoon floods could threaten the lives of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh. Ban told Al Jazeera that he was “saddened and dismayed” by what he saw while visiting the Kutupalong camp in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, where more than one million Rohingya are residing after fleeing a military-backed crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

Every year campaigners warn that rains and cyclones in Bangladesh pose a major threat to the refugees, who live in cramped conditions with little protection from the weather and no access to storm shelters However, it seems that NGOs and UNHCR have been unable or unwilling to build defences against floods or to build shelters on higher ground – as the testimonies sent to us on WhatsApp reveal.

Troubles have come in scores for Rohingyas as we have been reporting this last year – the water crisis, fires, the lifelong weariness of being stateless, living in dreadful conditions with little or no hope for the future. The fires left 48,000 people homeless in March, and now the floods. In addition, after repeated lockdowns and recent coronavirus outbreaks, there is a strong feeling among refugees that they are being forgotten. In the press, we don’t get to see the letters the Rohingya write to UNHCR – scroll down and you will and you can sense the pain.

The Norwegian Refugee Council reported 300 landslides had been documented, leaving roads submerged and bridges damaged, and 14,000 refugees living in waterlogged shelters, but that number was likely to increase.

“The floods are a window into how vulnerable refugees, and the community that hosts them, are to a rapidly changing climate. At a time of acute need, funding has continued to decline. Donors, we have been told, are fatigued. The cost of that indifference can be measured in human lives”.

Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Bangladesh in The Guardian.

The pandemic has meant limited access to the camps so self-organisation has been crucial and our friends who text us regularly have been trying to reach out to the “international community” to act, donate and campaign for their rights. During the pandemic, aid work has been massively reduced and donations drastically cut, with less than a third of this year’s funding target met. The UK government stands accused of “abandoning” the Rohingya with a 40% aid cut.

Please read on to hear the voices directly. Some names are not included to protect identities at their request as they fear retribution in some form for speaking out.

A small selection of WhatsApps direct from Kutupalong camp to Cov19Chronicles

Tuesday 27 July 2021 07:11

Assalalmalikum! How are you? I’m just sharing this information with you so you know our present situation. Kutupalong bazaar is floating today with heavy rains, floods and strong weather. Many shopkeepers are lost their shop’s materials. 

Please pray for these victims.

Photo courtesy of MHZ

Wednesday 28 July 07:48

Due to heavy raining and landslide, conditions in Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh become very dire. Water is flooding in all low land areas tearing hundreds of shelters down drowned into water and many people got injured.

Yesterday there was heavy landslides in the refugee camp in Bangladesh. Everything is flooded in various refugee camps right now due to landslide. Fire survivor’s families have been suffering a long time and also need for shelters. Now again their lives are suffering due to rainy season, landslide and flooding. 

People can’t cook and can’t stay inside their shelters where the water is knee high. They have lost their homes all their belonging.

Please think, what Rohingyas again have to go through!

Many shelters & bridges have been damaged by the landslides and flooding in the camp.

Please keep them in your Duwa (prayers) for these Victims. 

Photo courtesy of AB and family rendered homeless by floods

Sunday 1st August 11:56

Today, Registered Rohingya refugees rally to express their suffering and declare a hunger strike so that the UNHCR and international community acknowledge our suffering and help us. They wrote to the UNHCR.

To UNHCR, Nayapara Registered camp. Hnila, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar, Bangladesh. 

Subject : Hunger strike. 

Dear sir / madam 

With due respect and humble submission that we have been Refugee in the Registered camp Since 1992 and have lived for 30 years according to the law of Bangladesh and the National Union. But we didn’t get that right as a refugee. That’s why we did the hunger strike, the main point of our hunger strike is durable solution not WFP food Card, we didn’t receive our service from WFP to get durable Solution from 1 st July to 31 july. Some families from Kutupalong Registered camp didnot receive any service from WFP and others NGOs From 1 st October 2018 to till now due to mentioned Issues. We don’t want to take any NGO’S service from Next time until durable solution. We don’t want to live as long refugee life. I am looking forward to your positive response as soon as possible with your kindness. 

Your sincerely 

General Refugee.

17:37

One woman died by APBN police killed in rally. Many people has got injured today.

Friday 6th August 17:34

Assalamualikum my name is Arefa. 

I am From G block. Our shelter is near River. Our shelters has been raising water, till can’t stay in the home 4 or 5 days.

Brother if you rebuild my shelter in high place then can stay inside the shelter. Rice, dish, plate has flooded. So can’t eat food, can’t stay in the shelter. If you rebuild my shelter hence. Can will stay inside the home. It’s a river near her home. Many families has near river in camps like us.

Photo courtesy of AB

17:39

Assalamualikum my name is Warahamatullahee Obarakhathu. 

Strong rain and bad weather came

Water was rising in my home. 

My home is flooded and destroyed by river. 

So, impossible to stay home, 

Can’t cook food, can’t eat

We are feeling a very great depression 

These are very bad conditions for us

A very big crisis is going on in our lives. 

Brothers and sisters please help us

Rebuild our homes in high places

So we can stay inside our home. 

When the next rains will come then 

We can’t stay at home now. 

So, please let’s build our shelters in high place

This is a river

By this river, many shelters have been flooding and destroying every year

People came here to show me how to save our shelter from landslides

They said “make a fence around this river”.

How can I make a fence around a river?

It’s very great emergency for all people living in the camp

Requesting to all humanitarian agencies for help to make a fence against flooding

Requesting Shelters in higher ground

Requesting your attention and help.

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