ROHINGYA CRISIS

Poor sludge management poses health threats

Mohiuddin Alamgir | Published: 00:05, Oct 13,2017 | Updated: 23:50, Oct 12,2017

 
 

Rohingya refugees who crossed the border last night ride on the back of the truck that takes them to a camp near Teknaf on Thursday. — Reuters photo

Absence of proper faecal sludge management in Cox’s Bazar areas where Rohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar have taken shelter is posing threats to environment and public health as maximum of the ethnic minority people continue open defecation.
Over a half million Rohingyas have taken shelter here and there in Cox’s Bazar since August 25 and they still defecate in the open or existing are overflowing latrine facilities amid extremely poor hygienic conditions.
Rains washed these human excreta to ponds and water bodies from where many were collecting water for drinking and others daily needs, aggravating the risk of health hazards.
Health service providers time and again called for ensuring sanitation facilities for Rohingyas to avert any outbreak of diseases while the government with assistance from others were carrying out world’s second largest cholera vaccination programme.
Government and international aid workers so far set up about 13,000 emergency latrines, against an estimated need for 35,000. These 3-5 slab latrines are almost overflowing due to over use, aid workers said.
‘We cannot visit the areas where Rohingyas are living because of bad smell of human faeces. People of the entire area are worried about environment and public health,’ said Ukhia’s Palangkhali union parishad chairman Gafor Ahmed Chowdhury said.
‘I do not see any initiative for the collection of human faecal sludge,’ he alleged.
‘Proper management of faecal sludge in areas where Rohingyas are living is still in the planning level,’ said Department of Public Health Engineering executive engineer Cox’s Bazar Mohammad Mosleh Uddin.
‘We are spreading bleach and lime after dumping faecal sludge into holes. It is really a tough job to treat and dispose of faecal sludge of so many Rohingyas living in the area,’ Mosleh Uddin added.
Aid workers said that a human being on an average produced 123.6 gram of faeces a day.
According to UN estimation on Thursday, 5,36,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh in the past seven weeks in the new influx what the United Nations called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.
Officials estimated that the new influx already took to 9.54 lakh the number of Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh.
Rohingyas fled unrest in Rakhine state in 1978, 1991-92 and October 2016 and almost all of them too shelter at Teknaf and Ukhia areas of Cox’s Bazar, which housed two registered Rohingya camps and several other unregistered camps.
The new influx began after Myanmar security forces responded to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s reported attacks on August 25 by launching a violence that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.
The number of Rohingyas in Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas, about 9.54 lakh, has already become double the number of Bangladeshis there, 4.7 lakh.
One after another waves of Rohingya influx has overcrowded Teknaf and Ukhia upazila’s health facilities and put extra pressure on water sources, which would reduce the ground water level further, said local government officials and elected local government representatives.
Terrified, half-starved, exhausted Rohingyas continued arriving in Bangladesh in groups trekking through hills and crossing rough sea and the River Naf on boat although the flow slowed down.
Many Rohingyas took shelter at makeshift camps in reserved forests, felling trees, setting up shanties on hill slopes and some of them took shelter at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.
International aid workers said that it was not known how many were still defecating in the open but they were desperately trying to build emergency latrines. They are building latrines placing 3-5 slabs digging holes and those latrines are overflowing in a day or two.
‘We need to dig another hole and with this the area would be simply run out of open space,’ said an aid worker, working under Inter Sector Coordination Group in Cox’s Bazar. ‘We cannot dig deep holes as in many occasion water comes out from the hole,’ he said.
He said that so far they were digging holes to dispose human waste, then spreading lime and filling the hole and spreading bleach on the ground.
A situation report of UN and other international agencies on October 8 said that 8,107 emergency latrines had been built while the fill rate was exceeding the construction rate compounded by the unavailability of land and the unavailability of faecal sludge management.
‘Congestion in the receiving sites is a major concern; overburdening existing facilities; complicating access for emptying latrines; and increasing the public health risk in these sites. Faecal sludge management therefore remains a high priority for the WASH Sector,’ it said.
Oxfam water and sanitation engineer Enamul Huque, who worked for more than 25 years building water systems in the world’s biggest refugee camps, including Zaatari, Bidi Bidi and Dadaab, said that the crisis was one of the fastest population movements he had ever experienced.
‘We are working as hard as we can to avert a possible cholera outbreak. Providing people here with lifesaving water and sanitation has been a huge challenge, especially along the Naf peninsula where torrential rains have helped to turn the mud tracks over hilly terrain into clay quagmires,’ he said in statement issued by Oxfam on Thursday.
International aid workers said that absence of sanitation and contamination of water exposed risk of outbreak of diseases, including diarrhoea and other water borne diseases.
According to Directorate General of Heath Service control room, 14,493 Rohingyas to treatment for diarrhoea and 6,738 for dysentery at health facilities in the past 15 days.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Thursday said that he would visit Myanmar on October 23 for holding talks with the Myanmar government on the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
‘The main agenda would be quick repatriation of the Rohingyas as the Myanmar’s minister has assured us of taking back their citizens during his visit to Dhaka recently,’ he said at a briefing at the ministry.
The minister would lead a nine-member Bangladesh delegation and would return Bangladesh on October 25.
Agence France-Presse reported that the UN Security Council would hold an informal meeting on Myanmar on Friday to hear former UN chief Kofi Annan provide details of a report on the plight of Rohingyas, diplomats said.
The top UN political affairs official, Jeffrey Feltman, will travel to Myanmar on Friday for four days of talks on the crisis.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the military campaign, access for aid groups to reach the burned-out villages in Rakhine state and measures to allow the safe return of the Rohyingas.
‘Feltman will be holding consultations with Myanmar to address these urgent issues,’ said a UN official.
In late August, Annan presented the final report of an advisory commission on Rakhine state that he chaired at the request of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The report called for urgent action by Myanmar authorities to address the plight of the Rohingyas, who are stateless and have long faced discrimination in the Buddhist-majority nation.
France and Britain requested the meeting with Annan as the council weighed its next steps to confront the crisis over the mass exodus of Rohingyas, who crossed into Bangladesh. 

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