Hugh Lort-Phillips talks about his recent trip to Cox's Bazar. August 2018 marks one year since the max exodus of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh

A Firsthand experience of Cox's Bazar

Hugh Lort-Phillips talks about his recent trip to Cox's Bazar. August 2018 marks one year since the mass exodus of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh

By Action Against Hunger

Aug 24 2018

Hugh Lort-Phillips is a Global Coverage Adviser for Action Against Hunger UK. He is an expert in the planning and implementation of coverage assessments in nutrition programmes. Hugh has recently been in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to do a survey that evaluated the proportion of children acutely malnourished that are being treated in nutrition treatment programmes.


Cox's Bazar - one of the biggest refugee camps in the world

It’s been a year since the mass exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from northern Rakhine state in Myanmar to southeastern Bangladesh began, and the sheer volume of people in camps living side by side in such a relatively tiny space still feels overwhelming at first sight.

I travelled to the district of Cox’s Bazar as part of Action Against Hunger UK’s emergency operations team to help run a survey on the child nutrition services in the camps. In what is reportedly now the world’s largest refugee camp, and fastest growing refugee crisis, the true scale of the emergency playing out in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar is almost impossible to imagine.

On my first day I saw for myself, the extensive damage caused by seasonal monsoon rains to many hundreds of flimsy bamboo homes dotted alongside and above the muddy, congested camp paths. Perched on low-lying hills at precarious angles, and constructed on loose topsoil weakened by recent deforestation, the easy destruction provides a visual reminder of how fragile life as a refugee in Cox’s Bazar really is.

Relocations of vulnerable families are still going on as the heavy flooding and the risk of cyclones pervades, which is no small task in the cramped and chaotic conditions. Rain or no rain however, physical access for humanitarian workers in the camps of Cox’s Bazar is a constant struggle. With only two basic, constantly jammed up, access roads to reach the entire refugee population of close to one million, simply getting to the people in need can prove difficult. Every single delivery of essential food supplies, tents, medical kits, and building materials has to travel down these two narrow roads, which makes a very precarious situation to live and work in.

The survey I was coordinating aimed to map the coverage of treatment in the camps for severely acutely malnourished (SAM) and moderately acutely malnourished (MAM) children aged between six months and five years old. The results are still being finalised and validated by the relevant authorities, but early indications show that the coverage of treatment is lower than hoped in the camps. This is hardly surprising in the face of such unprecedented displacement of people and owing to the fact that some nutrition centres have only been operating for a matter of months.

130 babies are expected to be born every day this year 

In addition, it is estimated that approximately 60,000 babies – or 130 live births every day - will be born in the camps this year. Of course, this will have an impact on malnutrition rates and hunger in the camps as many babies will be born in tents due to the lack of 24-hour health facilities and may never be registered.

Mothers will also need support to breastfeed their children. What we have found from our research is that breastfeeding isn’t particularly high among the Rohingya women. This is partly because there was very little provision of primary healthcare for them in Myanmar – I heard an alarming statistic that only 20 per cent go to health centres in Rakhine state to give birth – and there is a cultural practice of some women feeding their babies sugar water in the villages. Changing that perception will be a challenge over the next few years.

Action Against Hunger is the biggest agency in the camps providing nutrition treatment. More than 18,500 infants suffering from severe acute malnutrition have been treated so far, and 19,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women have benefited from medical assistance and advice for taking care of their health and that of their children.

11,000 hot meals are served every day

Nearly 900 employees and more than 1,300 paid Rohingya community volunteers work daily for Action Against Hunger to support the camps’ most vulnerable people. Every day, more than 11,000 hot meals are handed out, and our teams, aided by paid Rohingya volunteers, are running 10 community kitchens, 18 mobile healthcare centres, and five healthcare centres.

In addition, more than 350,000 people have received mental and psychological support to treat their stress and overcome their traumas, and 38,200 emergency kits for building shelters have been distributed.

Putting food in peoples’ mouths during the first phase of this unprecedented emergency has been the priority, but education and sensitisaton of the refugees to their new situations will be the focus now. The Bangladesh government-led partners are used to the established, smaller Rohingya populations who arrived before this current crisis, but the new influx of refugees is very different and has specific needs. Ensuring the appropriate interventions is the next step. However, the Rohingya still don’t know what is going to happen to them in the future, and that is a not an easy burden to live with.

Action Against Hunger will continue to work to provide much needed treatment and support to these very vulnerable communities.

There are many ways to support our work with Rohingya refugees and local communities in Bangladesh, and almost 50 other countries where we work. You can share Action Against Hunger’s activities with friends and family on social media, you can make a donation to our appeal, or you can support our Love Food Give Food campaign this autumn.

Support our work in Bangladesh to provide urgent food and water and emergency services to Rahingya refugees from Myanmar
Support our work in Bangladesh to provide urgent food and water and emergency services to Rahingya refugees from Myanmar


Help us support Rohingya refugees

Photos: Lea Vollet for Action Against Hunger