Heavy monsoon rains triggered landslides and flash floods in refugee camps displacing thousands of Rohingya Muslims in southeastern Bangladesh this week, UN and other officials said on Friday, with further heavy rainfall expected.
At least six Rohingya, including three children, died in landslides and flooding while 15 Bangladeshis were killed and more than 200,000 stranded by flooding in Cox’s Bazar, said Mamunur Rashid, the district administrator.
Nearly one million Rohingya live in crowded camps in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement, after fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017.
The refugees mostly live in shacks made of bamboo and plastic sheets that cling to steep, bare hills.
TV footage showed flooded homes and muddy water cascading down steps and hillsides with children playing in chest-high waters.
“This is like a nightmare,” said Rohingya Rokeya Begum, according to Reuters news agency.
“I have never seen such flooding in the camps in four years. When the water came, there was nobody from my family at home to help. I was alone but I could take my belongings to a safer place. Now I am staying with another family.”
More than 20,000 affected
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than 21,000 refugees had been “affected” by the flooding while nearly 4,000 shelters had been damaged or destroyed.
It said more than 13,000 were forced to relocate in the camps, while thousands of facilities were damaged, including health clinics and toilets. Access has been hindered due to damage to roads, pathways and bridges.
And the flooding is likely to get worse.
Heavy rains have affected 21,000 refugees & damaged 4,000 shelters. IOM, volunteers & partners are working relentlessly to assist those affected.
— IOM Bangladesh (@IOMBangladesh) July 30, 2021
“Heavy rainfall is expected during the next few days, and as such, challenges are likely to increase,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, deputy chief of mission in Bangladesh for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“Despite multiple disaster risk reduction measures being implemented, the camp congestion, excessive rain and poor soil quality, make it extremely difficult to cope with the elements,” he added.
‘Belongings covered in mud’
Refugees, many of them still recovering from huge fires that tore through the camps in March, said landslides and floods left homes “totally covered with mud”.
“Somehow my family members could evacuate,” said Abu Siddique, who lives in the Balukhali refugee camp.
“The mud that came down from the hill entered my home … All of our belongings inside are covered in mud.”
Last month two Rohingya refugees were killed in separate landslides during heavy rain.
Fatalities from rain-triggered mudslides are common in Bangladesh’s southeastern hilly region during the monsoon season that generally lasts between June and September.
At least 149 people were killed in landslides in the districts of Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Rangamati and Bandarban in June 2017.
More than 120 others were killed in Chattogram alone in June 2007 due to mudslides caused by monsoon rain.