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WFP supports Rohingya refugees after blaze destroys homes

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Thousands of volunteers mobilize to distribute fortified, high-energy biscuits and assist with the clean-up. © WFP/Sayed Asif Mahmud

World Food Programme works with Government and NGOs to deliver critical food assistance as fire leaves 45,000 people displaced

By Brook duBois

The World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting people left destitute after a fire ripped through Kutupalong — the world’s biggest refugee camp — in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Thousands were left desperately searching for family members, having lost their homes and all their possessions. Eleven people were killed and 300 are missing, while 360 people are being treated for severe injuries following the fire on 22 March.

WFP frontline teams were immediately deployed to support first responders and provide rapid food assistance to people displaced on the night of the fire — two WFP nutrition centres and one food distribution point were burned to the ground.

“I found my sons after searching a lot,” said Somsu Alom, one of the 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in Kutupalong, most of whom fled violence in Myanmar in 2017. “I hadn’t eaten anything. All the money I had [was] burned. We need water. We need tarpaulin, food, everything.”

As part of its emergency response, WFP dispatched boxes of high-energy biscuits, packed with nutrients, to people in desperate need.

The UN agency is now working with the Government of Bangladesh and partners to supply 60,000 people with cooked meals twice a day.

“We couldn’t eat [after the fire],” said camp resident Asia Begum, who is the sole carer for her 85-year-old husband. “We ate biscuits and had water from the tube well.”

Mohammed Ali, one of 7,000 Rohingya volunteers mobilized to support clean-up and rapid food assistance, said he could see the fire burning shelter after shelter as families desperately shouted for their children. People with disabilities struggled to escape. “I was trying to help them but it was very sad to see.”

Ali’s shelter is gone, as are all his possessions. But his family is safe and he says that’s more important right now. Since the fire, he’s dedicated every day to getting word out about how and where to access WFP food assistance, while ensuring people have the things they need.

Food and water

“The scope and scale of this fire was unprecedented,” said Richard Ragan, WFP Country Director for Bangladesh. “WFP, together with our partners and thousands of volunteers, has supported the families since the start of the tragedy in meeting their most urgent needs of food and water.”

Ragan added: “Where two of our nutrition centres once stood, debris was cleared in record time, stocks were replenished and services resumed for children and their mothers. We are determined to do what we can to help them get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible.”

Sheila Grudem, WFP Senior Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar, said: “[We are] rapidly deploying food assistance, in large part thanks to the partnerships we have forged, from national retailers to local hotels and restaurants and of course our humanitarian partners on the ground. It is with thanks to them that Rohingya families have been able to have warm meals since day one.”

WFP’s partners include: BRAC, Resource Integration Centre, Save the Children and World Vision, as well as our Bangladeshi retail partners including Direct Fresh, Hoque Traders, HMS Corporation, Padma, Samata Traders and Shamsul Alam. WFP’s retail partners have donated more than 120,000 litres of water so far to support the International Organization for Migration’s ongoing rapid response.

WFP is grateful to donors including Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, the US and UK.

Learn more about WFP's work in Bangladesh