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As first cases of COVID-19 affect Rohingya camps, a cyclone bears down on Bangladesh

By Chris Hufstader
This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic by Abbie Trayler-Smith

Rohingya refugees seeking shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are now under threat from disease and dangerous storm.

Officials in the Cox’s Bazar area in Bangladesh, currently hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar, are now facing a double threat: The first cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in the crowded refugee camps, just as a dangerous storm is approaching.

“Our worst fears have been confirmed,” says Dipankar Datta, Oxfam’s Bangladesh country director. “The virus is hitting the overcrowded camps where many people are suffering from pre-existing health conditions. With over 100,000 people crammed per square mile, maintaining social distance is impossible. People share water and toilet facilities, making it extremely challenging to maintain the strict hygiene needed.”

Bad weather with heavy rains from the cyclone, which looks likely to form off the coast over the weekend, could bring further suffering and destruction to the camps on top of a potentially devastating health crisis. If the cyclone hits, the contamination of water sources caused by heavy rains and flooding could lead to a spike in illnesses. And any weakening of people’s immune systems will likely leave them even more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Oxfam is providing humanitarian relief, including essential water and sanitation to the refugees and the local host community.

“Our frontline workers and partners are providing clean water and toilets in Cox’s Bazar, and supporting the local host community with food and hygiene kits,” Datta says. “Since the pandemic began, Oxfam teams have been promoting awareness on hygiene, hand washing, and COVID-19 prevention practices.”

Last week, Oxfam installed an innovative contactless hand washing station designed with community input to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission. In the coming weeks teams will install more facilities.

“Every effort is being made to keep the people safe, but there are huge gaps. We need more funds to immediately ramp up hygiene, health, and protection facilities to save lives,” Datta says. “All governments and international agencies must step in to make sure no one is left behind. If a serious outbreak is to be avoided more prevention and containment measures – adapted to the needs of women and men – must be rapidly put in place.” Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+