The Rohingyas continue to flock to Bangladesh, fleeing the operations of the Burmese army. There are now 450,000 of them crammed into camps near the border. The NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), whose local teams are trying to help the refugees, fears a health catastrophe.
Not enough food, water, hard-to-reach camps and strewn with excrement: the situation for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alarmed the UN and NGOs, calling for help to avoid a health catastrophe.
On their arrival in Bangladesh, after days of walking often in the rain, the survivors find camps overflowing and are forced to clear the hills or settle down under simple tarps at the roadside. ” The camps are overcrowded at this stage, they literally overflow,” Andrej Mahecic, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told AFP. And the torrential rains of the last five days have turned the whole area into the mud, causing fears of landslides.
In addition, the delivery of aid is complicated because the area is huge and there is no road inside the camps. ” The terrain is undulating, subject to landslides, and there are no latrines.When we walk through the camp, we wade through dirty water and droppings, “says Kate White, MSF emergency medical coordinator.
“Their shelters are very fragile, there is no sanitary infrastructure, access to food is very limited, speaks to the news agency, emergency coordinator of Médecins sans frontières. And when you combine these three elements, it creates a situation where health becomes very vulnerable. Because the slightest change in one of these factors, the slightest disease in the water distributed, the slightest additional drop in the amount of food people have, can make the situation very difficult and fragile to catastrophic. I would say that the main problem is the lack of access to real drinking water. In the absence of drinking water, people drink water from rice paddies, puddles, or in small hand-dug wells that are often contaminated with excrement.
“In addition,” says Robert Onus,” the level of vaccination in Burma for what we know is quite low. And once you have such a concentration of people, 450,000, who live very close to each other, any disease that would normally be prevented by vaccines can spread very quickly. And obviously one of the ones that is most feared is measles. ”
Risk of an epidemic
The UN estimated on Friday that it would take 167 million euros (200 million dollars) over the next six months to face the “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis.” All the conditions are there for an epidemic to erupt and turn into a massive disaster,” concludes Robert Onus, in a statement issued on Thursday evening.
More than 429,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks to escape a campaign of repression by the Burmese army, described as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN, and until recently largely undermined or even ignored by the government Burmese. On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron went so far as to refer to a “genocide“.