Dhaka, Feb 27 – UN’s migration agency IOM on Tuesday said they are upgrading shelters to mitigate disasters when the monsoon and cyclone season hit the world’s biggest refugee settlement in the coming weeks.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing search and rescue training; setting up emergency medical centres and establishing bases for work crews and light machinery.
As Bangladesh’s annual wet season approaches, IOM is also working to secure infrastructure and boost resilience among Rohingyas and the local community, said the UN agency.
This includes the creation of disaster risk reduction safety committees to warn the refugees of what to expect and how to prepare for the wind and rain that are expected to bring deadly floods and landslides to the Cox’s Bazar camps.
Around 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar over the past six months.
Most of them now live in tarpaulin shelters on bare, unstable slopes – ground which will quickly turn to mud when the rains arrive.
Studies prepared by IOM and its partners indicate that at least 100,000 refugees and vulnerable families in the local community face life-threatening risks from landslides and floods.
On March 1, IOM will take part in a one-day emergency simulation to help develop rapid and coordinated responses to emergency situations.
Other participants will include members of the independent, multi-agency Inter Sector Coordination Group (ICSG), UNHCR, government authorities and local agencies.
“With emergency situations inevitable when the rains hit, it’s crucial we work together now to limit disaster as much as possible before it occurs. We need to be able to respond swiftly and effectively during crisis events,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.
“It’s also vitally important to support members of the refugee and local communities with training and information in advance, so they’re ready to respond and protect themselves and others when the worst conditions arrive,” he added.
Work to improve roads and drainage, stabilise slopes, protect against further erosion, and upgrade 120,000 shelters before the rains arrive is already underway.
But given the scale of the refugee population, the lack of suitable land, and the challenging environmental conditions, IOM said it will be impossible to move everyone at risk. “Rapid emergency response action will be vital to reduce loss of life.”
To boost resilience in the face of dangerous conditions ahead, at least 650 people from the refugee and local communities are receiving search and rescue, and first aid training from IOM, in conjunction with Bangladeshi Fire Service and Civil Protection Department.
Those trained will act as community focal points in emergency situations, spreading early warning messages for weather events and assisting in first line emergency response.
With landslides and mud expected to cause road closures and blockages of major drains and waterways, it will be crucial to be able to clear these as quickly as possible, said the IOM.
Light machinery will be installed and work crews established at ten strategic points across the district as part of the Site Maintenance Engineering Project – a joint initiative among IOM, UNHCR and WFP, it said.
Meanwhile, IOM is working with local authorities to support early warning systems for refugees and people in host communities.
Communities are also being trained in how to shelter and secure potentially deadly flying debris in the event of cyclones and other severe weather conditions.