Photos: Kathleen Prior for Action Against Hunger, Bangladesh
One month after the outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, more than 500,000 refugees uprooted by escalating conflict have fled across the border into Bangladesh.
The United Nations has warned that the conflict has now become “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency,” and if the situation does not improve, more than 800,000 refugees could cross into Bangladesh by the end of the year. The majority of these people are children, women and elderly people: many are traumatised, malnourished and in acute need of food, safe water, health care and mental health services.
“WE ARE WORKING AT ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM CAPACITY, AND WITH THE UTMOST URGENCY, TO MEET THE IMMEDIATE SURVIVAL NEEDS OF REFUGEES AND AVERT A HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE. WE ARE DEEPLY COMMITTED TO HELPING RESTORE THE DIGNITY OF THESE TRAUMATISED PEOPLE.” NIPIN GANGADHARAN, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER’S COUNTRY DIRECTOR IN BANGLADESH
More than 90 percent of the refugees who have recently arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar are sleeping outside in the open air, with no shelter to protect them from wind and heavy rains. These extremely vulnerable women, children and elderly people have no blankets, no beds, and no food, and fewer than 25 percent of them have access to toilets and showers. In Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where the majority of refugees have arrived, Action Against Hunger has scaled up its operations and is delivering daily hot meals to newly arrived refugees, as well as safe drinking water, health care, and psychosocial first aid.
According to initial rapid screenings, Action Against Hunger’s emergency teams estimate that among the newly arrived refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 6 percent of children under the age of five are severely malnourished. If validated by rigorous technical assessments, this would indicate prevalence of severe malnutrition far above the emergency threshold. The refugees have also suffered significant psychological trauma, shock and stress.
WORKING AT BREAKNECK PACE TO ALLEVIATE SUFFERING
Action Against Hunger’s immediate priorities are to save lives and alleviate suffering through the following interventions.
- Daily distributions of food and water: Every day, Action Against Hunger’s mobile teams are delivering more than 83,000 hot meals and 551,479 litres of safe water to Rohingya refugees in camps and other locations.
- Emergency health care and lifesaving treatment for acute malnutrition: Our emergency teams have also conducted health screenings for more than 100,000 children and admitted over 11,000 children into our emergency nutrition programs through mobile clinics and in partnership with 90 local government-run community health clinics.
- Preventing outbreaks of waterborne disease and improving sanitation: Action Against Hunger is the lead humanitarian NGO collaborating with the UN to provide emergency water, sanitation and hygiene interventions to prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
- Mental health “first aid”: Action Against Hunger has deployed psychologists and mental health counsellors to provide psychological first aid to more than 20,000 newly arrived refugees whose health and well-being has been impacted by the trauma, violence, shock and acute stress.
- Scaling up frontline emergency teams: The organisation has mobilised 400 humanitarian staff and more than 500 community volunteers to Cox’s Bazar to respond to the emergency.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Bangladesh since 2007 in response to Cyclone Sidr. The organisation launched programmes in Cox’s Bazar in 2008, well before the recent influx of refugees from Myanmar, and is one of few major direct frontline humanitarian responders in Cox’s Bazar that was already fully operational and able to scale up significantly to meet the rising level of needs.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Bangladesh is not only one of the world’s most populous countries, it’s also home to some of the highest rates of undernutrition around, with millions of children under the age of five suffering from severe malnutrition. The country’s public health is further undermined by poorly developed water resources, inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices, and recurring natural disasters such as cyclones and seasonal floods, which are made worse by climate change.
Right now, the country is suffering with severe flooding, as well hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to Bangladesh in recent weeks from neighbouring Myanmar, due to the outbreak of heavy violence in the Rakhine State. Many children and young mothers are traumatised, undernourished and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
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