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Bangladesh: Cyclone Amphan threatens refugee settlements amid first COVID-19 cases

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Cologne/Cox’s Bazar. As the first cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong camp, nearly one million Rohingya refugees in the world’s largest refugee settlement are facing the added threat of Cyclone Amphan, a powerful storm veering toward parts of coastal Bangladesh with wind speeds of up to 265 kilometers per hour.

Cordula Wasser, Head of Malteser International’s Asia Program, said: “The first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in the camp only days ago. Now, the area is also threatened by Cyclone Amphan, which is strengthening in the Bay of Bengal. We and our partners are now fighting a battle on two fronts. In addition to providing the people with information on how to protect themselves from the cyclone and its aftermath, our team on the ground is moving our isolation wards to safer zones away from the coast. Given the large number of people living in such proximity, it is extremely important that we continue to carry out preventive measures against COVID-19 and expand our medical assistance to contain the spread of the virus even in this emergency. It's a race against time.”

Malteser International is providing crucial medical and psychosocial care for refugees and members of the host communities in three health centers inside the camp.

“In order to protect vulnerable people from the coronavirus pandemic, we have put triage systems in place. Our staff has been trained on infection prevention and control, and we have been able to improve isolation of suspected cases,” Wasser said. “Even if the storm does not hit the camp directly by Wednesday, heavy rainfall will be devastating. 40,000 people, most of them children, are crammed per square kilometer. Their makeshift shelters of bamboo and plastic sheeting are built on slopes prone to landslides which occur even after light rainfall. Our teams are standing in solidarity with the both refugees and Bangladeshis, working around the clock to protect them from the storm and COVID-19 despite being exposed to the danger of a possible infection.”

Active in Bangladesh since 2017, Malteser International has been providing urgent assistance to the most vulnerable communities in Cox’s Bazar, including some 860,000 Rohingya currently living in extremely overcrowded refugee camps.

Note to editors:

Cordula Wasser, Head of Regional Group Asia, is available for interviews.

Contact information:

Katharina Kiecol,
+49 (0) 221 96441-181