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NASA and Columbia University partner with UNDP, IOM and UNHCR for disaster risk reduction in Rohingya camps

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A team of scientists from NASA and Columbia University visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. © Eno Jonathan/UNDP

Since August 2017, Bangladesh's south-east area has seen a huge influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

During the summer and rainy season, vulnerability of refugees and host communities to wind, landslide and flooding increases greatly, and despite best efforts from public and private sector partners, there still remains room for improvement in disaster risk reduction.

To take early action and respond effectively to these events, stakeholder access to appropriate weather and hazard information is crucial to support critical decision-making, prioritisation of needs, and effective use of limited financial resources.

In light of this, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) together with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are working to support weather and climate-sensitive decision making for disaster preparedness.

Under the “Connecting Earth Observations to Decision Makers for Preparedness Actions (COMPAS)”, there will be provision of climate and weather advice, development of hazard modelling products, and learning opportunities on risk-informed decision-making.

With support from the ECHO and SDC-funded “Disaster Risk Management in Cox’s Bazar” programme, UNDP recently hosted a team from NASA and IRI in Cox’s Bazar, where the scientists met with the teams from UNDP, IOM and UNHCR on the ground.

The visit included a learning workshop with UN, INGO and local NGOs, which involved walking through different decisions that are made before an action is taken during heavy rainfall events in the refugee camps.

Shanna McClain, Programme Lead, Risk Reduction and Resilience, Earth Science Division of NASA said, “The workshop is to help familiarise participants with contextualising risks through earth observations and other types of data like maps in their decision-making process.” She noted that it was a reciprocal interaction where the participants learnt how they work at NASA and Columbia University's IRI and the visiting team understood the highly localised decisions that must be made by the participants.

The team also visited sites within the Rohingya camps to assess landslide susceptibility and meet with government representatives and Rohingya refugees. The Camp-In-Charge of Camp 10, Hafizol Islam was delighted at the visit around landslides, about which he has less knowledge than cyclones. “We have little information on landslides. It is unpredictable for us and can happen at any time,” he said.

For Shanna McClain, this visit was a chance to get more support from multiple decision-making levels regarding disaster risk reduction as according to her, it brings them closer to something that will be beneficial to all.

“Working with UNDP, IOM, UNHCR and ISCG has helped us understand what is critical to them and also helps us develop our products in a way that answers the kind of questions they have,” she said.