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9 ways to monsoon-proof a Rohingya refugee camp

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Monsoon rains can be devastating, particularly in the overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh where nearly 1 million Rohingya live in makeshift shelters.

It is over a year now since the conflict in Myanmar caused a huge exodus of Rohingya people, creating one of the world's largest refugee crises. Almost 1 million Rohingya have fled for their lives to a small strip of land on neighbouring Bangladesh’s south-east coast.

Most refugees are living in makeshift shelters built from bamboo and tarpaulin on bare earth. Some are built on uneven ground and on hills as steep as 45 degrees. Monsoon rains can be devastating, particularly in these overcrowded conditions, where the needs are already so great.

Trócaire has been responding to the crisis through our local partner Caritas Bangladesh. With the arrival of the monsoon season Caritas Bangladesh piloted an innovative project to improve the living conditions of Rohingya refugees.

These are the nine steps they took to monsoon-proof the refugee camp.

Step 1: Identify and move the most vulnerable refugees to safer areas of the camp

Step 2: Use aerial data to identify the land most at risk from flooding and landslides.

Step 3: Recruit and train refugees as manual labourors.

Step 4: Teach refugees to build strong shelters with sloping roofs and basic windows.

Step 5: Terrace the slopes with bamboo to prevent mud slides.

Step 6: Build bridges

Step 7: Build bamboo steps and sand bag paths.

Step 8: Build concrete-lined drains and gender-segregated toilets.

Step 9: Provide solar lights to make it safer to walk around the camp.

An important element to this project was involving refugees themselves. The work of preparing their surroundings and working on their shelters has at least given them a measure of dignity and pride.

Hasina, 50, volunteered to take part. “I’ve never used these tools before”, she says, “but Caritas experts showed us what to do. When we first tried, the rain came through. But then we corrected our mistakes, and last night when it rained, the shelter stood up to it. I’m feeling very proud.”

Trócaire support through Caritas Bangladesh

As well as provinding shelter in the camps, Caritas Bangladesh have provided the following supports to families since the crisis began in August 2017:

  • Food distibutions have reached : 75,124 families
  • Gas cylinders for cooking : 12,000 families
  • Water and sanitation : 261 latrines constructed, 27 deep wells, 170 bathing areas
  • Safety : 684 street lights
  • Child friendly spaces : 1,892 children have been assisted