World must work to avert Rohingya health emergency

Published: 00:05, May 20,2018 | Updated: 23:13, May 19,2018

 
 

AS ALL efforts for safe and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are moving at a snail’s pace, the refugees are living in measurable and inhuman condition in camps amidst monsoon. International aid workers warned that the risks of outbreak of vector-borne epidemics and diarrhoeal diseases in congested Rohingya camps could increase in the monsoon. The early monsoon rain has already damaged scores of shelters and caused several small landslides in and around the camps. A report of the World Health Organisation has said that overcrowding, insufficient food, and poor water, sanitation and hygiene would ‘present serious health threats’ to Rohingya camps during the monsoon and cyclone periods. The monsoon rain denuding hillsides to mud would dramatically increase the risks of the outbreaks of infectious diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, typhoid, hepatitis, leptopirosis, malaria, dysentery as well as acute respiratory infections. Their predictions ring true as we have seen how Cyclone Mora has previously affected lives in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The international community as well as the government must mobilise aid and take initiative to prevent any outbreak of diseases in the camps.
In the case of a cyclone or a landslide, evacuation of a large number would be a challenging task. International aid workers and the government have, therefore, started the process of relocating Rohingya refugees to a safer location. It is commendable that the government has taken the initiative to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char of Hatiya in Noakhali. However, relocation is not the solution to the humanitarian and political crisis at hand. The influx of over 11 lakh Myanmar refugees led to indiscriminate deforestation and hill cutting to make space for creating temporary shelters for the refugees made Ukhia and Teknaf prone to flooding which they never had historically been. The full economic effect of the influx may not be apparent for some time but it will hit the economy in near future. National experts have already warned the government of the detrimental economic burden and suggested that it might face price increase of local food and transport, food grain shortage, and reduced tourism, along with increased pressure on natural resources. While extensive international humanitarian relief has poured in to support the refugees, that does not cover all economic costs to the government.
It is important that the government and international aid workers through joint efforts prevent any possible outbreak of infectious diseases in the camps but the government must also mount pressure on Myanmar to de-escalate violence in the Rakhaine state and begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh fleeing indiscriminate violence of the Myanmar army. The concern of the international community and the support of the humanitarian organisations in the form of food, temporary shelter and medical supplies is welcome, but it is not enough. International bodies must work to build an effective pressure on Myanmar so that it works for safe, voluntary and sustainable return of the Rohingya people.

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