Posts

 

Sanitation in Rohingya Refugee CampsMass persecution and forced deportation of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar have created over 1 million homeless refugees in Southeastern Asia. Historically facing discrimination, the Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in western Myanmar (formerly Burma). They have been regarded as stateless, meaning without citizenship or any rights associated with it, since 1982, and the recent Buddhist nationalist movement has led to increased religious tension. They have mainly fled to Bangladesh, many of them have no choice but to leave Myanmar and enter Bangladesh illegally. This is partly due to their lack of freedom under the Myanmarese government’s labeling of stateless.

Sanitation and Water Issues

The largest refugee camp area in Bangladesh is Cox’s Bazar, where over 900,000 Rohingya people have taken up residence across 27 different locations. The area, not designed to hold this many people for so long, faces extreme overcrowding. The overcrowding is so dire, Bangladesh has been searching for ways to send back the refugees. It has been difficult for many to have adequate sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps. There has even been a worry that existing wells have been constructed too close to the latrines. If this is the case, mass disease outbreaks could occur without sanitation improvements. However, organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Oxfam have been working to improve these conditions.

Cox’s Bazar is very susceptible to long dry seasons, from November to April or even May. Long dry seasons lead to the main water reservoirs that the refugees use for their water drying up. Shallow tube wells that some organizations have constructed are also very susceptible to drying. The dry season has been much worse recently due to the climate changes associated with El Niño. To make matters worse, the rain has come only in dramatic cyclones. To ensure sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps, including clean water access and improve sanitation, organizations developed and implemented deep-well tubes.

Deep tube wells penetrate the ground past surface-level aquifers and reach the more stable water table beneath. These wells allow for more consistent water access. The water is then piped up to above-ground tanks with solar energy, where it can be monitored and the quality of water can be maintained at safe levels. Constructed in many strategically placed areas of Cox’s Bazar, there are over 20,000 shallow and deep tube wells in place. With the rapid construction of these wells, the UNHCR and Bangladeshi government have reached the goal of 20 liters per person every day.

Rohingya Women and Issues of Safety

The issue of proper latrine construction and maintenance has also been an issue that plagues the Rohingya refugees, particularly women. Many women and girls do not feel safe using the latrines, or even walking to them. They are typically in very difficult-to-reach areas of the camps. Refugees often must walk down steep, muddy slopes to reach the toilets and showers. Other than the trek, the latrines typically have no roofs or doors, and sometimes have little to no walls. In an area with hundreds of thousands of people, a third of Rohingya women did not feel safe taking a shower or using the toilet, according to a study conducted by Oxfam in 2018.

Refugee women need to feel safe and comfortable. Oxfam has been working with the women to design new latrines. These efforts also help women become more involved in the decision-making processes in the camps. The newly designed latrines have a full four walls, as well as a door, a sink and a stall. By involving more women in infrastructure projects such as these, they become more empowered and eager to participate in decision-making processes. This creates a lasting effect, especially in the younger Rohingya generations, that ensures greater stability among gender equalities in a place where women are largely left out of critical decision discussions.

The Future of Rohingya Refugees

The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is higher than ever. But these refugees have seen major improvements through the engaging and effective efforts from many humanitarian organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. While there are still challenges to overcome, continued improvements in water access means improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps and clean water for refugees. Oxfam works to provide upgraded latrines and toilet sanitation for better privacy and safety for women and children. In addition, the construction of thousands of deep-tube wells ensures that no disease outbreaks will take place on account of contamination from the toilets.

While the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh remains tumultuous, those affected experience rapid developments in their living conditions. More refugees are likely to enter Cox’s Bazar, but sustained support from the international community ensures that more refugees than ever are able to have improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Palliative Care
Providing necessary medical care is essential to any humanitarian response. For the approximately 745,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to the largest refugee camp in the world, accessing high-quality medical care is often difficult. Palliative care, which is medical treatment for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, is often overlooked in humanitarian crises. Two organizations, PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies) and the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation, are pioneering this treatment for Rohingya refugees.

The purpose of humanitarian health work is to relieve suffering and save lives; however, those who are chronically and perhaps terminally ill are often given less attention than those with more easily treatable ailments.

Who Needs Palliative Care?

Palliative care improves the quality of life for children and adults who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Treatment focuses on physical, emotional, social and/or spiritual symptoms, and requires ongoing interaction between the patient and health provider. This care is sometimes provided alongside other therapies and treatments, including chemotherapy for cancer patients.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management on life-threatening illness in Cox’s Bazar found that the most common life-threatening illnesses were tuberculosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

They also estimated that 73 percent of those with life-threatening illness experience pain. Approximately half received no pain relief and a majority receive very little pain relief. Other common symptoms include insomnia, cough, anorexia and dyspnea.

The Challenges

While medical supplies are generally available to treat these symptoms, they are often unaffordable, particularly for refugees, and more than 60 percent of patients had to stop taking medications because they were no longer able to afford them.

In addition to medication, palliative care requires a caregiver, and caregivers in Cox’s Bazar are normally family members. Approximately 94 percent of caregivers have no training, and providing hours of daily assistance bathing, feeding, giving medications, etc. is a physically and financially demanding role. Providing this treatment for Rohingya refugees, therefore, is often a significant burden on families, particularly if they have to do a lot of the work themselves.

Moreover, unique challenges arise when children need extensive treatment, as they need extra support and often spend more time in the hospital, separated from family and friends. This increases psychological stress and caregivers are in need of even more training to know how to properly care for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

A Need that Should not be Overlooked

In spite of this need, palliative care for Rohingya refugees is not a priority in the aid sector’s response plan. PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies), an organization based in the UK, was created in response to the general lack of palliative care in disaster and conflict responses.

Co-founder Joan Marston stated that palliative care is “really about the dignity of the individual,” noting that already “there’s enough indignity within these humanitarian situations.” The goal of PalCHASE is to get more emergency response plans to incorporate palliative care, hoping that the treatment will cease being an afterthought in the humanitarian response.

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation is Bangladesh-based and is working directly on providing palliative care for Rohingya refugees. It is the first concrete palliative care program with a humanitarian response.

Founder Farzana Khan, despite being unable to secure long-term funding, is on the ground with a team of three addressing the distinct needs in the Rohingya refugee camps. Khan spent 20 years providing palliative care in Bangladesh prior to focusing on the Rohingya refugees, noting that her “core approach” is “dignity and respect.”

Early in their response, Khan’s researchers estimated that thousands of people in the refugee camps may be in need of palliative care and were not currently getting help. To remedy this, it is essential to make this treatment more easily accessible and ensure that refugees know when to seek medical treatment and care.

Changed Lives

Sanjida, a 16-year-old refugee living with untreated meningitis, which is causing increased paralysis, has received palliative care, thanks to Khan and her team. Her sister and caregiver, Khaleda, noted that she can now do more by herself, can call for assistance more easily and just generally seems happier.

Another patient, 10-year-old Mujibur Rahman, who suffers from bone cancer, was struggling to walk and ended up confined to a wheelchair. Dedicated treatment helped manage his pain and within two months helped him walk again.

Since the Rohingya crisis began in 2017, Khan’s team has reached approximately 1,000 patients, including Sanjida and Mujibur. While funding continues to be a problem, Khan hopes that organizations’ successes will help secure more financial support so that they can continue to provide support for Rohingya refugees.

Looking Forward

Regardless, the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation should become a model for other humanitarian response teams looking to focus on palliative care. In addition to the Rohingya, other refugees around the world, as well as those who are impoverished, are in need of better treatment in the case of life-threatening or chronic illness. The work of PalCHASE will hopefully increase knowledge about the need for palliative care and encourage humanitarian leaders to consider it more seriously.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

 

Aid to the Rohingya
At the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, almost 700,000 people are living in makeshift refugee camps in a location called Cox’s Bazar. These people are Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar in late August due to targeted violence and persecution. Faced with such challenges, various agencies are providing aid to the Rohingya refugees.

The Rohingya are a Muslim population formerly located on the western coast of Myanmar. Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country and the Rohingya are among a small number of people who practice Islam. The minority group has endured prosecution for centuries, but a new wave of violence escalated in the summer of 2017 to levels never before witnessed in the country.

Primarily an issue of land rights, the tension between the Rohingya and the majority of Myanmar’s population has caused thousands of people to flee and cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh. After a treacherous journey across the river, refugees find themselves in a country without persecution but with no place to go.

The refugee camps are not a sustainable solution. Makeshift homes have been created out of primarily plastic and bamboo. Inadequate water and sanitation conditions persist as more and more people flee across the border. The refugees are stuck in limbo as Bangladesh does not have room for an additional 700,000 people and the prospect of going back to Myanmar is off the table for many of the refugees.

In the midst of all of this uncertainty and desperation, many international organizations are working to provide aid to the Rohingya.

Doctors Without Borders

One of the larger organizations providing aid to the Rohingya is Doctors Without Borders. The organization has been present in the camps since the beginning of the crisis in late August. At first, Doctors Without Borders focused on water, sanitation and emergency health care assistance. As the crisis continues to unfold, the organization has been adapting to the needs of the refugee community.

Mental health services have recently been offered as the trauma of the violence continues to haunt many of the Rohingya victims. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is working with both other aid organizations and the Bengali government to address the crisis and how to proceed.

UNICEF

UNICEF is another organization working to improve camp conditions and provide aid to the Rohingya. The group is looking to move toward a more permanent solution for the refugee population. Mostly focused on proper shelter, adequate food and clean water, UNICEF also has plans to install water pumps in the future.

Another major project for UNICEF is providing vaccinations. In September, the organization set a goal to vaccinate at least 150,00 children against diseases like rubella, polio and measles.

Bracing for Rain

As spring approaches, the Rohingya refugees must brace for a new crisis. Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings the threat of floods and landslides. Cyclones are also a major threat to the area, with their primary season spanning March to June.

The U.N. is fervently working on prepping for the potential crisis. In February, U.N. agencies sent out engineering crews to clear blocked sewage canals that had the potential of overflowing during the monsoon season. Rice husks have also been distributed to refugees as an alternative to firewood.

U.N. agencies are working on relocating 100,000 refugees from the major camp at Cox’s Bazar. As monsoon season quickly approaches, all of the organizations working will need the support of the broader international community to lift up efforts to provide aid to the Rohingya.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to MyanmarOn August 24, 2017, Rohingya militants attacked more than 30 police posts in Myanmar. The government retaliated by burning Rohingya villages, killing Rohingya civilians and committing other atrocities against the country’s Muslim minority. The situation has increased the need for humanitarian aid to Myanmar.

As of October 19, 2017, almost 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh and the number is continuing to climb. The U.N. referred to the situation as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The government has denied many of the allegations and has taken control of aid operations, blocking many types of aid from reaching the country.

Yet even in such dark situations, inspiring examples of kindness and generosity can be found. In that spirit, here are some of the positive stories of humanitarian aid to Myanmar in the midst of a horrendous situation.

  1. The United States has pledged an additional $32 million of humanitarian aid to Myanmar and the surrounding regions that will go toward helping the Rohingya people. These additional funds bring total U.S. assistance to the area to nearly $95 million for the 2017 financial year.
  2. The Canadian government has promised to provide $2.5 million in aid to the Rohingya. This pledge is a part of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and will go to women and children displaced by the crisis. Canada has sent $6.6 million to Myanmar and Bangladesh so far in 2017.
  3. Norway made a pledge to provide an additional $3 million of aid to those affected by the conflict. Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Eriksen Søreide, also called on Myanmar’s government to give access to organizations providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar to the worst-affected areas of the country.
  4. The United Nations Refugee Agency has been working with the government of Bangladesh to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. The Agency has opened medical centers to tend to the needs of the refugees.

These are only a few of the many governments, organizations and individuals that have assisted the Rohingya people in the midst of this horrendous crisis. Humanitarian aid to Myanmar and the surrounding area continues to be delivered in many different forms.

The humanitarian aid to Myanmar is a reminder that even in times of unspeakable tragedy, there are always individuals who are helping and making a difference. It is imperative to keep this in mind when thinking about the importance of humanitarian aid and foreign assistance.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

Why is Myanmar PoorLocated in Southeast Asia and bordering six other countries, Myanmar is slowly working to correct economic woes that have crippled the country for decades and have led many to ask “why is Myanmar poor?” Aside from widespread poverty, Myanmar is dealing with potential acts of genocide after 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. This comes at a time when the country has been rebuilding its reputation after holding its first democratic elections in 2010. Under the previous rule by a military junta, development assistance had been on the decline due to the “unfriendly business environment.” The country has since undergone major reforms, including a string of altering economic policies and revamping sustainable development, as well as holding government officials accountable for human rights abuses.

The fact remains that “more than one-fourth of the country’s 60 million people live in poverty.” Myanmar is deeply dependent on agricultural land, and its infrastructure, as well as human capital, are abysmal. However, some reports suggest a promising economy in the years to come. The Asian Development Bank stated that “Myanmar could follow Asia’s fast-growing economies and expand at 7 percent to 8 percent a year, become a middle-income nation, and triple per capita income by 2030.” With the U.S. easing sanctions in 2012 and an increase in foreign development investments from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion, gradual refinements to shift Myanmar to a competing free-market economy have been the key to harnessing growth.

Recently, the Burmese government decided to heavily invest in food security and rural development to reduce the migration of young people to cities, which depletes the labor available in rural areas. According to the U.N., in 2030, approximately 60 percent of the world’s population will inhabit urban areas. In addition, a recent survey showed that “25.6 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line in Myanmar and most of them are farmers from rural areas.” For this reason, Vice President U Henry Van Thio provided solutions to these queries by offering examples of ways the government would aim to persuade people not to migrate. Some solutions included:

  • Creating more robust transportation and electricity service to villages and rural areas
  • Provide agricultural loans to farmers
  • Building all-season roads

He noted that some underlying factors which have contributed to a wave of people fleeing rural areas include job shortages, climate change, food insecurity and difficult financial situations. Additionally, he noted that there was a solution underway to respond to the infrastructure deficits that are hindering Myanmar’s development. He attested that “the Department of Rural Road Development has been established as a new department under the Ministry of Construction in order to hasten and streamline infrastructure projects.”

With no recent announcement concerning the “14,000 Rohingya who are at risk of dying from malnutrition in the refugee camps,” the Burmese government is in a serious predicament. Their main focus is on dealing with a humanitarian crisis and furthering their agenda domestically. With labor shortages being a concern in rural areas, the next steps by the Burmese government must be prudent, well-executed and permanent if they aim to answer to the grievances of their people. The goal to transition Myanmar to a developed country can come only at the cost of their own expenditures. The question of “why is Myanmar poor?” comes at a time when the focus has shifted to international compliance as well as eagerly enforcing policies at home that will benefit its people. Humanitarian assistance, as well as development initiatives, are in conjunction to see improvements that come at a most pressing time.

– Alexandre Dumouza

Photo: Flickr

What is Genocide?Answering the question “what is genocide?” can be done as easily as looking in the dictionary. The word comes from the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix -cide, meaning killing. Putting the prefix and suffix together, Merriam-Webster defines genocide as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group.

While the dictionary definition is technically accurate, there is much more information and context necessary to truly answer the question “what is genocide?”

The term “genocide” was first coined in 1944 by Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin to describe the Holocaust. Lemken created the term to describe what the Nazis were doing to European Jews. During the war, Lemken saw every member of his family except his brother killed by the Nazis. More than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in a targeted attempt to destroy the Jewish people.

After the war, Lemken fought to have genocide recognized as a crime under international law. During the Nuremberg trials, Nazi officials were charged with crimes against humanity, and genocide was used as a descriptive term for their actions. Genocide was recognized as a crime under international law by the U.N. General Assembly in 1946, and in 1948 the U.N. approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention).

The Genocide Convention defines genocide as any of five acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. These acts are killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

There are some critics who say that the U.N. definition is too narrow. It is incredibly difficult to prove “intent,” difficult to determine the definition of “in part,” and the definition does not include political groups, social groups or the destruction of a group’s environment. There are also complaints that the term “genocide” is overused and misused, often in relation to actions not meant to destroy a people group.

Asking the question “what is genocide?” should also lead to an understanding of why recognizing genocide matters. While genocide is not commonplace, its effects are devastating. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum lists four instances of genocide since 1990. These occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Sudan and Iraq. These four genocides resulted in a death toll in the millions. These high casualty counts demonstrate why recognizing and responding to genocide is a necessity.

Genocide continues to be an issue today, as many are accusing the Burmese government of genocide of the Rohingya population, a Muslim minority group in the country. International attention given to the situation in Myanmar is putting pressure on the Burmese government to account for what is happening. With one million Rohingya living in Myanmar, this example shows the continuing need to identify and prevent genocide.

Erik Beck

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

During the past month, Bangladesh and the world have watched in horror as 400,000 refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar in the wake of an increase in military crackdowns among Muslim Rohingya villages. Many have lost family members in the violence and all have lost their homes. In the wake of the catastrophic events that have unfolded, Bangladesh has been forced to absorb a majority of the shock as ad hoc camps have been built along the borders. With 31.5% of its population already living below the national poverty line, aiding the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may prove difficult for the Bangladeshi government.

Myanmar has made international headlines over the past month as images surfaced of entire villages being burned and destroyed. Beginning in August of this year, Rohingya militants executed a series of attacks in Rakhine State, where a majority of Rohingyas reside. The Rohingya people are known to be one of the most persecuted communities in the world. They suffer from systematic discrimination by both the government and fellow citizens because they are seen as illegal.

The government of Myanmar responded to the attacks with what is considered by U.N. officials to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Thus far, the operation has killed more than 1,000 and forced over 400,000 from their homes.

While Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said last week in a televised broadcast that the country was ready to welcome back the refugees, there has been skepticism about how welcoming the country will actually be, considering its history of Rohingya mistreatment. Furthermore, she stated that the Rohingya refugees would be allowed back in via a “verification” process. It remains to be seen what that verification process would entail.

Considering the uncertain future for the Rohingya refugees, organizations and countries have already stepped up to not only help the refugees but also the country of Bangladesh, particularly since the economic burden of hosting 400,000 refugees has been great. While Bangladesh has been focusing on its own impoverished citizens, the U.N. has estimated that nearly $200 million will be needed to aid the Rohingya refugees for a period of just six months. Bangladesh has urged the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to halt the influx of refugees, and it has seemed to help.

The U.N. has reported a drop in Rohingya refugee arrivals to Bangladesh since the end of September. While the International Organization for Migration claims that this is “too soon to say that the influx is over,” it is still a small victory for both Bangladesh and the international community. Likewise, Bangladesh has received significant aid from surrounding countries, including 53 tons of relief materials from India. Those materials included rice, pulses, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tea, ready to eat noodles, biscuits and mosquito nets. Additionally, this week, the U.S. agreed to give $32 million in humanitarian aid in the form of food, medical care, water, sanitation and shelter. This comes at a crucial time, as the Bangladeshi government has agreed to build 14,000 temporary homes. This aid will go a long way to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh while their future in Myanmar is still unclear.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Education for Rohingya Children

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been fleeing to Bangladesh with the hope of finding shelter from the extreme violence they have had to endure. As the minority group of Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims are the populations facing discrimination and persecution from the Buddhist majority, which is defined by U.N. human rights officials as “ethnic cleansing.”

Rohingya refugees were therefore forced to escape their country to find safety in neighboring Bangladesh, which already housed almost 430,000 of those refugees. With the increasing influx of refugees fleeing into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the country has announced that it will create the world’s largest refugee settlement with the capacity to shelter 800,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims, including children.

According to UNICEF, 250,000 Rohingya children have escaped from Myanmar to the host community of Bangladesh, making up at least 60% of all refugees. According to the research-based advocacy project — the Arakan Project — education for Rohingya children has always been at risk, as most of them did not have the chance to attend school due to poverty factors and lack of schools. Additionally, Rohingya students are being barred access from universities in Burma. Now living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, some of the students are missing out on proper education, as secondary schools in camps are not allowed by the Bangladeshi government.

However, UNICEF has been working toward providing proper education for Rohingya children within the camps. On September 29, the organization announced that it will build new learning centers for Rohingya children in addition to the 182 existing centers in the camps. In total, UNICEF is planning to increase its numbers to 1,300 learning centers in order to provide education to the expected 200,000 child refugees coming to Bangladesh.

These learning centers will only provide education to children ranging from ages four to 14. Therefore, education for Rohingya children older than 14 is still compromised, leading to illiteracy for the majority of those students. Currently, there is an estimated total of 80% of Rohingya people being illiterate. UNICEF is working on developing additional educational opportunities for the future of Rohingya children.

Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr