ACT Alliance appeal: Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic – ACT201 - Sub-Appeal - ACT 201-BGD - COVID-19 Response to Refugees and Host Communities in Bangladesh



Context and Needs

In Bangladesh, more than 25,000 people have been tested positive for COVID-19 and around 375 people have died as of 20 May 2020 according to the Directorate General of Health Services.

Infections and fatalities are increasing rapidly in the country affecting almost all the districts. Due to the presence of Rohingya refugees, Cox’s Bazar district is one of the most vulnerable. In the camps, one million Rohingya refugees, half of whom are children, live in some of the densest conditions of 40,000 people per square kilometer (UNOSAT-REACH Shelter Footprints, May 2019). As of May 18, six Rohingya refugees have been infected with the virus and more than 10000 Rohingyas have been quarantined. Overcrowded camps could have devastating consequences given the recommended practice of physical distancing is particularly challenging and the potential death toll would be unimaginable. Experts have already opined that the process of the ‘community spread of infection’ has already started in the camps as contact tracing has not been done. Cox’s Bazar district has been put under complete lockdown from the very beginning and only emergency food supply and medical services are allowed with extreme caution. Due to the ongoing lockdown, the local economy has started taking a hit. Health service and food assistance are required for a large number of vulnerable people belonging to both the host and the Rohingya communities. 700,000 vulnerable Bangladeshi host community members are in need of food/cash support as reported by the Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar. Poor farmers are in need of support for agricultural production (crops, livestock, fisheries) due to the impact of COVID-19. Though WFP, IOM, UNHCR and other UN agencies are providing food and hygiene support in the camps, the host communities are in need of such support.

The lockdown due to COVID-19 has resulted in economic implications especially among the population facing daily loss of income from micro income generating activities. The Study COVID19: Bangladesh, Multi-Sectoral Anticipatory Impact and Needs Analysis reveals that: 75% respondents mentioned there is not sufficient access to food at home; 91% don’t have sufficient money to buy food; 66% reported that the main challenge was closed markets, markets are not functioning, and preferred items are not available; 70% indicated they couldn’t provide a varied diet to children between 6 and 23 months. Moreover, dietary diversity proved to be a challenge as 79% women reported that they cannot provide diverse food to the child between 6-23 months, 49% indicated that women and children couldn’t access health and nutrition services.

Considering the situation, immediate interventions are needed to keep the food and agriculture market functional, maintaining the health standard and guidelines. The study suggested short, medium- and long-term interventions to meet the need. Short term interventions included:

Identifying & ensuring Food Security essential and critical services and supplies, supporting the safe handling of food and transportation up to consumers, supporting the farmers and food handler for safe and (COVID) contamination free food, ensuring agriculture and livestock services are provided maintaining safety in a continued manner and organizing awareness raising campaigns, Communication with Communities (CwC) and others. Medium and long-term interventions included: Ensuring livelihood process is resumed by supporting the most in need with cash/inputs in production mechanism and ensuring market functionality, providing support along the value chain of agriculture, livestock, fisheries, food based business and off farm trade that the livelihood process resume. COVID-19 is a dangerously contagious disease. The waste generated during COVID-19 patient’s treatment carries a higher potential for spread of infection.

Inadequate and inappropriate disposal of hazardous waste might further spread the virus. The newly built COVID-19 isolation centers are not well equipped to handle infectious waste. The need is also there to provide equipment support to this centre for better service. The lockdown situation has also increased the vulnerabilities of Rohingya Refugees especially PwD, elderly people and widow headed households with many children who already had multiple vulnerabilities since the 2017 influx. There are specific difficulties among the vulnerable groups due to densely populated terrain of the camps and lack of information dissemination. In the midst of lockdown, the specific needs of the vulnerabilities include: Safe access to critical food items along with cleanliness and minimum hygiene practices. In the overcrowded camp environment, there are challenges in maintaining minimum health and hygiene, which is critical to containing COVID-19. Elderly people and persons with disabilities deserve special attention for health and hygiene practices.

Being one of the hotspots of the virus infection and having the largest number of urban slum population, capital city Dhaka has also become severely vulnerable as a large number of low income households living in the slums have become jobless due to the pandemic. Around 20 million people live in the capital city of Dhaka. 63 percent of city dwellers are day labourers.

Multi-Sectoral Anticipatory Impact Analysis and Needs Assessment` on COVID 19 response shows that LGBTIQ+ groups, especially those who do not have an adequate support structure within their communities remain at high risk during this period. The humanitarian impact is likely to be most severe among already at-risk groups including ethnic community groups, dalits, low income families, people with disabilities, returnee migrant workers, informal and low wage earners such as daily labourers, women headed household, transgender and sex worker. Data from other rapid assessments shows that 40% of the poor population and 35% of the vulnerable non-poor have already reduced their food consumption to cope with the situation amid the pandemic.
Considering the effect of this pandemic on the vast number of low income households of Dhaka city, the need is there to work with the day labourers, bhangari workers (scrap dealers), restaurants workers, transport workers, old & destitute women, disable people, slum dwellers, construction and factory workers, shop assistants, rickshaw pullers, street hawkers and home service people who have become economically inactive during the time and in need of urgent food support. It was reported that during this critical situation, a particularly vulnerable community members-- the third genders or the hijras, are being accused as carriers of the virus because of their outdoor activities and lifestyle and some of them have reported facing harassment by the law enforcement agencies. Many members of the third gender community, who are shunned by local elites and others, remain left out from the traditional relief support provided by the local authorities. Third gender community members will also be included in the project.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ‘Government of Bangladesh (GoB)’ has taken several steps to provide health services to the infected people. Country wide 41 testing centres have been established and all government hospitals have been instructed to set up isolation wards for COVID 19 patients. Some non-government hospitals have also set up COVID 19 treatment facilities.

Government has also set up temporary field hospitals in Dhaka and Chattagram to deal with the increased number of cases. In terms of providing relief to the vulnerable people, a list of 50 lac people has been prepared by government administration who would be provided BDT 5000 in two instalments in the coming months. Government has also introduced an ‘OMS’ facility where city dwellers can buy rice at a subsidized rate. Government has also instructed all district and subdistrict level officials to provide food support to the vulnerable households. In Cox’s Bazar district, both local administration and humanitarian actors have taken various actions to control the infection. This project will complement both government and non-government initiative to deal with the economic losses.