Rohingya Crisis Update – Preparing for the monsoon.

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The violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, which began in August 2017, has driven an estimated 646,000 people to seek sanctuary in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh – making it the fastest growing forced displacement crisis in the world. The speed and scale of the influx have resulted in a critical humanitarian emergency.

Essential services are under severe strain due to the massive increase in people in the area and the arrival of the monsoon season has increased the vulnerability of the refugees.

Thanks in part to generous donations to RedR UK’s Christmas Appeal, we were able to support the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar.  Assisted by RedR UK, RedR India in collaboration with Christian Aid, developed training courses and strategies in Hygiene Promotion to help prepare frontline humanitarian workers to meet the increased needs and vulnerabilities of the refugee population during monsoon season. 

WASH vulnerabilities in Cox's Bazar

Communities at risk

For people displaced by conflict, access to clean water and appropriate sanitation facilities are amongst the most urgent needs. Christian Aid is working in Jamtoli Camp in Cox’s Bazar, responding to the needs of 62,866 Rohingya refugees, alongside other organisations providing essential WASH facilities. However, hilly terrain, the availability of water resources and overcrowding are proving critical barriers to reaching the affected population and have resulted in some complex and interrelated WASH vulnerabilities.  

As of 20th May 2018, the Bangladesh Humanitarian Situation Report No. 32 found that at least 70% of water stored in households was contaminated. Some families are also using open wells as a primary water source, increasing the risk of contamination.  Reports from Christian Aid MSNA indicate that on average 31.5% of surveyed households get less than 15 litres per person per day and only one-third of households have a water source located less than 500m from their shelter, increasing the risk of contamination during collection, transportation and storage. 

During the monsoon season, water stagnation, open drainage and lack of appropriate systems for solid waste disposal increase the risk of vector-borne disease, especially Malaria, Dengue and Chicken Guinea. The practice of open defecation is common in the camp, and the lack of appropriate facilities increases the risk that open defecation will increase.
Christian Aid MSNA observed that most of the hand washing stations within the camps were dysfunctional with limited numbers of people practising hand washing at critical times such as after toilet use and before eating and cooking. 

Limited access to clean, safe drinking water has left many refugees vulnerable.
Photo: Rabiul Hasan / icddrib
Limited access to clean, safe drinking water has left many refugees vulnerable. Photo: Rabiul Hasan / icddrib

Creating a Hygiene Promotion Strategy

Without enough safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, it is difficult to maintain good health. Without proper sanitation, water supplies can become contaminated, and diseases can spread rapidly. Developed using Sphere standards, and in consultation with WASH cluster partners, community mobilisers, community members and Christian Aid staff, the Hygiene Promotion Strategy aims to address the WASH vulnerabilities in Jamtoli Camp through enhanced community action and organised interventions at camp level. 

The strategy recommends some practical steps, including promoting the practice of household-level water treatment to prevent contamination and a targeted Hygiene Promotion campaign for handwashing and latrine-use.  The plan advocates an integrated approach to working with the community, including working with the groups on the management of sanitation facilities and in creating and disseminating visual messages around Hygiene Promotion.

The low numbers of women participating in community meetings were also noted as a critical challenge to Hygiene Promotion. Women are often actively discouraged from participating in open meetings. The Hygiene Promotion strategy recommends recruiting female hygiene promoters and organising activities in female-friendly spaces to overcome this challenge. Activities include women-only monthly gatherings and recruiting female volunteers to ensure that every woman entering the community kitchen washes her hands with soap, following the hand-washing steps. 

The language barrier also presents a challenge in Hygiene Promotion. Most of the community in Jamtoli Camp speak Rohingya dialect, however, developing Information Education and Communication (IEC) material in Rohingya script is a challenge. The strategy emphasises the role of the facilitator and the importance of group discussion to overcome this challenge. Alongside IEC material, the plan also recommends working with the community to use storytelling to communicate Hygiene Promotion messages in Rohingya dialect. 

Read the full Hygiene Promotion Strategy here

Refugees line up their container hours in advance to gain access to limited supplies of drinking water in Cox's Bazar.
Photo: European Union 2018
Refugees line up their container hours in advance to gain access to limited supplies of drinking water in Cox's Bazar. Photo: European Union 2018

Building resilience through Hygiene Promotion Training 

In addition to the creation of the Hygiene Promotion Strategy, RedR India in collaboration with CAID organised two training courses on Hygiene Promotion for both national and international NGO staff. The training courses gave participants a good understanding of Sphere Standards for WASH and Hygiene Promotion in a post-disaster context, helped them to identify risk practices and barriers in the transmission route of water-borne diseases and gave them practical skills in describing and demonstrating hygiene-promotion activities. 

The training courses were facilitated using participatory methods, including group discussions, presentations, experience-sharing and practical demonstrations.  As part of the training, participants were asked to develop messages and practical activities around Excreta Disposal, Food Handling and Environmental Cleanliness. Activities included community meetings, group discussions and role play. All participants also created Information Education Communication (IEC) materials for the different WASH messages. 

The Hygiene Promotion course was tailored to the context in Cox’s Bazar, and participants worked in groups to identify opportunities for hygiene promotion interventions in Rohingya camps in reference to the Sphere standards. These included opportunities for targeted interventions with women, children and adolescents for improved handwashing and water handling practices. 

Both courses were well-received, with 80% of participants reporting a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ overall experience of the training. This percentage rose to 100% in the second course. 

Read the full report on the Hygiene Promotion Training Courses here.

Refugee children wash their hands before a meal in Kutupalong camp, Cox's Bazar.
Photo: European Union 2018
Refugee children wash their hands before a meal in Kutupalong camp, Cox's Bazar. Photo: European Union 2018

Long-term support

With a return to Myanmar looking increasingly unlikely for most Rohingya refugees, the situation in Cox's Bazar is moving from an immediate into a protracted crisis. Thanks to generous funding from RedR UK donors, we are able to support the long-term assistance of Rohingya refugees, helping to build the resilience of the local community and giving them access to safe, clean drinking water throughout the Monsoon season and beyond.