Access to Safe, Clean Water for Refugees in the Bangladesh Camps
By Liz Mys and Andrew Day
March 22, 2017
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
“In some camps there are latrines in front of their dwellings upon the mazes of long bamboo sheds. They are choked with the blackest rancid bubbly mixture of everything nasty that you can possibly imagine from excrement to dead animals. Mosquitoes hovering over their putrid breeding ground just inches from where thousands of people are laying on the mud floors of their huts. In the midst of the hot season, the gunk in the latrines thicken into a bog like mixture.- Andrew Day
Unlike the Kutapalong Registered camp where the main source of water is ground water, with tube wells (one functioning tube well to 107 families on average), Nayapara camp, which is in Teknaf sub district beside the river Naf and groundwater is not available due to hydrological constrains.
In order to provide water in the Nayapara camp, an artificial reservoir was constructed within the boundary of the camp. Drinking water is supplied through a pipe line network and during the dry season, water is trucked in to the camp.
|Nayapara. Photos by Andrew Day|
The operating time of the water taps is 2 hours per day, though it is of one cause of discrepancy. The families report that they only manage to collect 3 to 4 containers per family per day, 6 to 8 liters. For an average family of 6 or more this ration is hardly enough and well below the 15 to 20 liters recommended.
|Leda Unregistered Camp|
|Nayapara Registered Camp|
The water they are getting to drink and to cook with, depending on where you are will come from a dirty ravine, shallow tune wells or pumped from reservoirs. The quality of water is terrible. Most of the water sources begin to dry up at the end of the hot season, before the rain comes, making supply scarce.
Men can bathe with a bucket standing by a tube well, or some will go to the murky brown water that has collected in an ablution pond at some of the larger mosques. The women can’t do so as easily without harassment.
In these densely populated areas, many women can only hope for a small water pail to wash themselves inside their huts.
The rain will finally come during the monsoon season. The heavy downpours will cause the latrines to flood over and the hellish contents therein flows into their sleeping quarters and saturates all their possessions. Their clothes, their cooking pot, whatever that has not been taken away by the current of flood water, which when it gets so bad could rise up to chest high of this bacteria laden runoff.” – Andrew Day
“It is dangerous in the forest where we go to collect wood or dry leaves, there are robbers, or villagers or forest ranger demand money from us. They sometimes take our tools or beat is until we pay. But we don’t have money to pay”. – Refugee, Leda Camp.
Many have told stories of beatings from thugs and police for something as basic as collecting water from a nearby stream. Women folk tells of how they are stopped, verbally abused and raped if they are intercepted by these men. These incidents doesn’t get reported to the authorities as their statuses of being unregistered deem them illegal and unprotected by any laws.
The access to clean and safe water everywhere is a problem. Very few water sources are ever tested but with the shallow wells and reservoirs so overlapped with sewage, it is inevitable that eating and drinking will make them sick.
These unnecessary circumstances are breeding grounds for infections and typhoid is a reoccurring condition or rather a perpetual one, to the point where fevers and vomiting are not to be taken as cause for alarm because they are so common. A common combination is typhoid with anemia and most likely a bacterial skin disease.
|Skin diseases are common and spreads easily in the communities due to the unhygienic living conditions, poor sanitation and polluted water. Photo by Andrew Day|
Living is impossible when people are eating and drinking traces of faeces daily. That’s if they have anything to eat at all.
Many unregistered Rohingya live in unofficial refugee settlements, where malnutrition rampant. In one makeshift camp, the global acute malnutrition rate is at 30%, double of emergency threshold.
But despite of this, the government has denied permits for aid agencies to assist unregistered refugees, stating that medical, food, drinking water and training facilities run by the charities were encouraging an influx of Rohingya to the country.
Borrowing, lending, trading, selling and buying food are common coping mechanisms among the refugees to compensate for the food deficit. Those who are registered also share their food rations with those who are not. There have also been reported incidences of forced sale of food rations to local villagers which have been instigated and aided by camp personnel, the Mahjees and local thugs.
“I have to borrow sometimes up to five kilograms of food a week to feed my family.” Nayapara refugee, family of 14.
|The dry season and monsoon season each year poses a huge risk to the people living in these areas.|
|Much help is needed in building safe access to clean water and to build lavatories for the communities.|
According to UNHCR the recent influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, saw 70,000 people cross over to Bangladesh since October 2016. From the 1990s, the country has had a huge number of refugees who fled the persecution and violence against them. The number of refugees in Bangladesh is reported to be almost 1 Million in total, only 10% refugees able to receive aid in the UN registered camps.
Adding to the already huge number of refugee in the country, these families are currently living in makeshift tents around the border areas. Some 2000 families are reported to be hiding in the forests.
With the monsoon season expected in 2 months time and almost right in the middle of the month of Ramadan, these families will have to face an event more dire situation on top of lack of food and medical care.
• UNHCR seeks equal treatment for all Rohingya in Bangladesh