Bangladesh + 1 more

Basic Tools, Big Impact: Information is power for Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar

Written by Mark Maulit.

It is a warm, sunny day in Cox's Bazar. Camp 9 in Balukhali is buzzing with activity as the Rohingya refugees that live here recover from four days of almost incessant rain brought by a cyclone on the western side of the Bay of Bengal.

The late annual cyclone season has begun but fortunately Bangladesh has so far been spared. This does not mean that all is well: 2,439 refugees have been affected by the heavy rains. This is no surprise given that, despite relocation and mitigation efforts, the camps are still rife with natural hazards and the work of preparing refugees for the worst must continue.

Part of this task is taken on by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) as part of its Communicating with Communities (CWC) program. A video on cyclone preparedness is being screened at an IOM information hub with equipment brought in by the Emergency Telecommunications Sector (ETS) in coordination with the CWC Working Group.

Support from the ETS focusses on providing multimedia projectors, sound systems, petrol and solar power solutions as well as 3G mobile Internet connectivity covering 29 information hubs across Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.

These communication solutions help humanitarians reach an affected population of whom 73 per cent are illiterate in any language.

"The equipment is portable enough so it can be used virtually anywhere in the camps for conducting CWC activities,” says ETS Coordinator, Min Sun.

So far, the ETS has delivered technical equipment packages to information hubs operated by IOM, Radio Naf, Terre des Hommes and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); agreements with other agencies are lining up with the hope of extending services to 11 more hubs.

Mobile phones were one of the main tools used by the affected population to send and receive information prior to their arrival Cox’s Bazar, but since it is technically illegal for refugees to purchase subscriber identity module (SIM) cards in Bangladesh, only 54 percent of the Rohingya community is currently using a mobile phone as opposed to 85 percent of Bangladeshis.

The hubs, are valuable resources for refugees beyond cyclone preparedness. "Before there were information hubs, we used to rely on hearsay for information. Now, we get it directly and can relay it to our family and friends. And they in turn can verify the information by visiting the hub themselves," says Amenah Bagum, a Rohingya refugee.

Seventy-seven percent of the affected population report not having adequate information to make decisions for themselves and their families; giving access to multimedia content – as the hubs are doing – is a pratical solution. As Sayed Azim, another refugee, observes, "we used to just hear the information. Now we can see it and understand more easily.”