Over 5,20,000 Rohingya children living in overcrowded camps and informal settlements in Bangladesh may face even greater risk of health and safety ahead of upcoming monsoon season, UNICEF warned on Tuesday.
“Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face an even greater risk of disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement during the monsoon,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF representative in Bangladesh.
“Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions can lead to cholera outbreaks and Hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while stagnant water pools can attract malaria-carrying mosquitos. Keeping children safe from disease must be an absolute priority,” he added.
More than 4,000 suspected cases of diphtheria have been reported among the refugee population, with 32 deaths, including at least 24 children.
UNICEF and its partners have launched a diphtheria vaccination campaign, and are working to provide children and families with access to safe water and sanitation facilities, but overcrowding and the growing risk of extreme weather increase the risk of further outbreaks.
In addition to the increased threat of disease outbreaks, the cyclone season brings an increased risk of flooding and landslides - a direct risk to children’s lives.
Even a moderate storm could have a devastating impact, with little time to prepare ahead of the start of the cyclone season in March.
Tropical cyclones generally strike Bangladesh in two seasons, March through July and September through December, with the greatest number of storms arriving in May and October.
In May last year, cyclone Mora barrelled through the region, destroying approximately one quarter of the makeshift shelters in Rohingya refugee camps and causing widespread damage.
In addition, the regular monsoon rains starting in June could bring devastating landslides and floods.There is a serious risk that shelters, water systems, latrines and other infrastructure could be severely damaged in storms or floods.
The Bangladesh government has generously taken in more than 6,50,000 Rohingya refugees since August 25, and it has been working with UNICEF to deliver life-saving support to Rohingya refugees as well the host community in Cox’s Bazar.