Nearly 1 million Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar and are living in crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
With extremely high-density living areas (population density is 70,000 per sq. km -- 1.6 times higher than aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship), low provision of essential services – including health – or hygiene facilities, and high rates of underlying health conditions, indications are that the spread of Covid-19 within the camps could be rapid and deadly.
Social distancing is near impossible, access to water and sanitation is extremely limited and lockdown is preventing the ability to work, leading to an inability to purchase food.
To tackle Covid-19, World Jewish Relief is working with local partner ISDE Bangladesh to distribute food, water, soap and PPE as well as run an awareness campaign.
Covid-19 was confirmed in Bangladesh in March 2020 and quickly spread to all provinces. A nationwide lockdown was declared on the 23rd March to control the spread. Whilst infection rates are now slowing country-wide, Cox’s Bazar district remains one of the highest rates of infections and continues to experience an increase in new daily confirmed cases. As such, it is one of the districts that remains in the ‘red zone’ to demarcate continued and special government restrictions on movement and assembly.
The first confirmed case of Covid-19 within the camps was recorded on 14th May. There are now more than 50 cases within the camps, and 2,700 in the local community with 4 confirmed deaths. Whilst local authorities and humanitarian agencies have ramped up testing and capacity for treatment, it remains severely under resourced and insufficient. Currently, there is only one laboratory, which has a testing capacity of 200 tests per day, catering to both host communities and refugees in the entire Cox’s Bazar district. Furthermore, access to accurate information within the camps has remained a challenge with an ongoing ban on the internet impeding the spread of key messages. This has led to a lack of coherent understanding of the threat of the virus or preventative measures. With high rates of poverty and large numbers of people engaged in the informal economy, the secondary impacts of the lockdown has also been severe on the local communities.
In April 2020, World Jewish Relief launched our first project in the region. We distributed food packages containing enough food to feed a family for two weeks to 750 households. This enabled beneficiaries to eat nutritiously while adhering to lockdown requirements. In addition we distributed 750 hygiene items (two bars of soap and two masks) to households, as well as distributing 50,000 leaflets and conducting small hand-washing demonstration sessions for young refugees within the camps to increase awareness and good hygiene practise.
Owing to the continued threat of the virus and economic impact on the community, we have continued this programme into a second phase. Following the high demand for food supplies from the first distribution, we will continue to provide access to food. However, to ensure this is done in a safe way and reduce the need for gatherings at distribution points we will instead be distributing food vouchers to targeted beneficiaries. These vouchers will be tradable with prior selected vendors for essential food items. This will reach approximately 700 more households with essential food supplies as well as supporting local vendor’s businesses and the local economy. This will again be coupled with two pieces of soap and two face mask per household.
Following consultation with the Camp site management and at their request, we will be working to increase the availability of clean water within the camps to improve the sanitation of camp residents. Roughly 50 hand-washing stations will be installed at key locations within one camp with each being used by roughly 20-30 families.
Finally, we will continue awareness raising by displaying around 50 billboards and information boards in public places with Covid-19 messaging, as well as training key leaders within the camps about adherence to local recommendations like social distancing. We will conduct further distribution of leaflets/posters and broadcasting of audio messages in the local dialect.
Abdul Amin's story:
When the Myanmar military attacked Abdul Amin's Rohingya village, burning it to the ground, he fled with his family for Bangladesh but in the turmoil lost sight of one of his sons. Now aged 70 and holed up in Cox's Bazaar, he is terrified of catching Covid-19. His greatest hope is that he will be reunited with his boy. We are helping the family with food and PPE.
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