Since the Rohingya refugee camps are yearly exposed to two cyclone seasons in April-May and OctoberDecember, as well as a monsoon season from June to September with heavy rains generating flash-floods, water-logging and landslides, the Protection Sector developed an emergency preparedness and response strategy as to ensure standard guidance and synergy within protection partners during the preparation, response and reconstruction phases. In coastal areas, particularly in Teknaf, storm surges also represent a significant threat. Since fire incidents are also a serious hazardous events observed across all camps due to the widespread presence of flammable materials, light construction materials used, high congestion and proximity of shelters, this strategy further becomes applicable when protection partners are responding to major fire incidents. Considering the context and the aforementioned risks, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency preparedness and response (EPR) are key planning and programming priorities and must be integrated into regular, yearly humanitarian cycles, in order to effectively prevent exposure to protection risks and to efficiently respond on time to the emergency, in particular amidst COVID-19 restrictions.
Four years after the 2017 mass displacement of the Rohingya population, 884,041 individual refugees 12 live in 34 settlements in Ukhiya and Teknaf, with 5% of refugee families having at least one specific protection vulnerability that requires specialized protection attention; 3 additionally, 52 percent of all refugees are children, the majority of whom do not have access to formal education. According to the REACH 2021 assessment4 , around 12 percent of refugees are persons with disabilities who are more likely to be left behind in any kind of emergency due to lack of inclusive preparedness and response initiatives. The crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the vulnerability of refugees and has led to a reduced footprint of protection actors and other service providers as a consequence of the measures taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. Moreover, measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 continue to impact the ability of agencies to carry out certain infrastructural improvements which may have adverse impacts during the cyclone /monsoon season and large-scale fire incidents. Closure, lack of maintenance and accessibility of facilities has also led to deterioration of some structures, which could function as temporary shelters in the aftermath of a fire or monsoon disaster (this is not applicable to cyclone). Furthermore, due to
COVID-19 restrictions these facilities cannot accommodate large numbers of people in the event of a disaster.
In 2019 and 2020, the humanitarian community strived to stabilize and improve the camp conditions also to mitigate risks in the 2021 monsoon and cyclone seasons. However, the situation in most camps continues to pose serious challenges for mobility and physical protection from the natural elements, particularly during the monsoon season and is expected to severely worsen during a cyclone (i.e. non-permanent shelters and absence of cyclone safe shelters for the large majority of the refugee population). Congestion and a difficult terrain, mainly constituted by steep slippery slopes and flood-prone low-lying areas, make it very challenging to improve refugees’ access to humanitarian services in case of an emergency, in particular for those who are mobility challenged including persons with disabilities and the elderly. As such, access and outreach of mobile teams and volunteers, as well as ensuring that vital information are disseminated in multiple formats to reach all persons, taking into consideration the new operational and communication modalities set by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the several lessons-learned and good practices from 2019/2020 and in line with the Protection Sector objectives, community-based protection networks of Rohingya and Bangladeshi volunteers have been established and have continued to work closely within the rest of the community. In this regard, women volunteers form a substantial part of the community networks and their inclusion and direct participation is crucial to an equitable and efficient mobilization and providing information related to the emergency linking them to existing static and mobile protection teams. Volunteers have also been crucial in the delivery of protection services in the immediate aftermath of an emergency and are already present in the camp, even during period of COVID-19 related lockdowns. Even though it might not be feasible to have volunteers with disabilities in every camp, Focal Points, Protection Emergency Response Unit Team Leaders, protection partners to the extent possible include persons with disabilities within their community-based programs.
It is within this operational context and based on the lessons-learnt from the 2019/20 emergency responses that the Protection Sector Task Team has revised the 2021 protection sector’s emergency preparedness and response plans.