Asia-Pacific News

Rohingya refugees are facing another looming threat – Bangladesh’s monsoon season

Shafi Musaddique
Key Points
  • Bamboo tents are at risk from monsoon floods and storms
  • Video footage shows storms gathering ahead of the rainy season
  • As many as 200,000 refugees at direct risk from landslides
Refugees cross a flooded bridge in the Balukhali Rohingya refugee camp on September 19, 2017 in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Getty Images

Rohingya refugees in makeshift camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border could soon face a new threat to their living conditions — the monsoon season.

The majority of the approximately 700,000 refugees from Rohingya to have crossed the border since fleeing violence in Myanmar have mostly ended up in Cox's Bazar, a region notorious for flash floods that have the capacity to destroy simultaneously villages and harvest crops.

Aid and humanitarian agencies warned Friday that they now face huge challenges in ensuring refugees aren't exposed to disease and loss of life in the thin slice of land on Bangladesh's south-easterly tip.

Walter Jeanty, deputy head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Bangladesh told CNBC that potential landslides could be a major risk to refugees packed inside a densely populated area.

"The risk of flooding is real and it affects a lot of people. Cox's Bazar doesn't have much excess land, and with the potential for landslides, extra land for refugees has been added and tents have been strengthened," he said.

With tents mainly made of bamboo and tarpaulin, Jeanty warned that "living conditions must be looked at in the camps."

Humans Rights Watch (HRW) also warned that "rickety structures won't be able to withstand the storms and heavy rains of the imminent monsoon season."

Video footage uploaded online Monday showed a severe storm ripping through one Bangladeshi refugee camp.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said that the storm tore into 900 tents, blowing some away.

The head of the ICRC's delegation in neighboring Myanmar posted footage on Twitter and expressed his concern. video on Twitter "A reminder about the potential impact of the upcoming monsoon," Fabrizio Carboni tweeted.

Refugees also face the risk of contracting cholera from contaminated waters during the monsoon season, an issue Jeanty said was "on the radar."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) used computer modeling to predict that over 100,000 refugees are at risk from landslides and floods across the monsoon season, which typically peaks in July.

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As many as 200,000 refugees were at direct risk from landslides after assessments by the Bangladesh government, The Guardian newspaper reported.

According to Reuters, Myanmar's panel of international advisers on Rohingya issues warned in April that monsoons could bring "enormous deaths" if camps aren't built to withstand heavy storms.

Many refugees have been living in a region called "no man's land" near the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar since August last year.

The Rohingya, a minority Muslim community from Buddhist majority Myanmar, fled their homes in large numbers in September after reports of military attacks targeting them. The United Nations has accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing.

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