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Bangladesh/Myanmar Border: Red Cross & Red Crescent Help Migrants Prep for Cyclones

By: Katie Bemb, American Red Cross

With monsoon season fast approaching, the American Red Cross is ramping up aid provisions and preparedness activities in Bangladesh to keep families safe and healthy.

Since August 2017, more than 650,000 people have crossed from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh. Seeking safety from violence, these individuals and families have joined an existing population of displaced people in Bangladesh and are crowded in shelters in transit areas, informal settlements and camps. The majority of migrants are residing in camps in Cox’s Bazar, a district on the southeast coast of Bangladesh. This area is especially prone to cyclones and flooding because of its proximity to the shore and heavy monsoon rains.

As monsoon season approaches, natural disaster risks heighten

“Life is difficult enough right now, with almost 900,000 people crowded into huge, sprawling camps on unstable hillsides, each family living in a flimsy structure made of bamboo, plastic sheeting, cardboard and sometimes corrugated iron sheeting. It’s extremely basic,” says Ekram Elahi Chowdhury, Bangladesh Red Crescent’s Director of Population Movement Operation in Cox’s Bazar.

“It’s worrying that within weeks, life could go from extremely basic to dangerous here.”

The monsoon season starts in April and peaks between June and August, historically bringing almost daily downpours and 16 to 24 inches of rain per month. “Cyclones could tear shelters apart, leaving families exposed to the elements. Floods from the rain or cyclone could block access paths to food, water and healthcare, or maroon people on little islands, an effect some experts call lily pads,” remarks the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Rosemarie North.

Nearly 20 percent of individuals inhabiting the Kutupalong and Balukhali extension camp (the “mega-camp settlement”—located in Cox’s Bazar) are at risk for flooding and landslides during the rainy season, according to a risk analysis conducted by Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency.

Because most of the migrants fled Rakhine state quickly, many arrived without possessions or papers. They’ve since been relying on humanitarian aid from organizations like the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network for survival. The makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar provide displaced persons with the bare minimum. Basic services and resources that were available at the start of the complex humanitarian emergency have been under severe strain the last seven months.

Newer arrivals have settled in areas with no pre-existing infrastructure or services and are extremely vulnerable to the outbreak of disease as well as fire, flooding and landslides. Even access to food has been difficult. A new study found that nearly half of children living in Kutupalong mega-camp in Cox’s Bazar suffer from malnutrition and anemia.

American Red Cross steps up its preparedness work in Cox’s Bazar

Red Cross and Red Crescent teams have been delivering medical care, food, hygiene items, first aid kits, blankets and other critical aid in the camps. The Red Cross and Red Crescent’s emergency hospital—which has been open for six months—has a 24-hour surgical facility, a maternity ward, and has already treated tens of thousands of patients.

The American Red Cross has contributed $500,000 towards these relief efforts in Bangladesh since the crisis began last summer. We have also contributed 25,000 blankets and deployed three disaster specialists to the area to work alongside volunteers and our local delegation staff already based in the country.

As monsoon season approaches—threatening families’ health and safety—we have stepped up our life saving disaster readiness activities. Alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent, the American Red Cross is ramping up its support for the Cyclone Preparedness Program—a joint project of the Bangladesh Red Crescent and the Government of Bangladesh. We are training displaced persons, local volunteers, and host communities on how to keep camp residents and host communities safe during cyclones, heavy rains, floods, and other hazards.

This work includes training 500 displaced people from Rakhine as cyclone preparedness volunteers—adapting the training to address the unique location of the camps. The volunteers will disseminate public awareness and early warning messages—in the appropriate language—via mega phones, a warning flag system, and existing mechanisms such as mosque loud hailers. The Red Cross is also supporting disaster simulation drills in Kutupalong so people know what to do during an impending storm.

Volunteers will also be trained in protection and gender aspects of disaster response as well as first aid and other life-saving interventions.

The migration crisis in Bangladesh isn’t the only disaster threatening the country. Residents are still reeling from Cyclone Mora and from floods in the northern, northeastern, eastern, and central part of the country last year—towards which the American Red Cross contributed $575,000 and deployed seven disaster specialists.

Media interviews and visuals available:

To speak with disaster response managers and access our b-roll and photos, contact Jenelle Eli at: media[at]redcross.org.

How to help people in need throughout the world

You can help the victims of crises around the world by making a gift to the American Red Cross International Services, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need: https://www.redcross.org/donate/international-services

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.