Wanton water and Rohingya floods- Bangladesh in double jeopardy

As the northern floods subside, Friendship get ready to tackle another flood— The Rohingyas

by Shamit Mahbub Shahabuddin

Rohingya refugees

The August floods that hit and devastated the northern parts of Bangladesh, left us with an aftermath of horror — affecting over seven million people across the country. Rescue, shelter, food, medical care, drinking water and sanitation and finally rehabilitation- these are the steps Friendship considered while going full throttle into the disaster management program. Just as we were getting a grip on things in the North, another disaster struck this time in the South of the country. This disaster is not a natural one, rather it is man-made hence the devastation and aftermath it has left behind is much more fearsome and crude.

A day before and after at the interior of Ukhia Upazila — homeless and foodless Rohingya refugees stranded in a land that is not their own

We are a humanitarian organization working towards the needs of marginalized people of the coastal belt and riverine population of the country, giving them hope and dignity at the same time. But the Rohingya crisis left us stunned. This is a crisis we have never faced before, certainly not in these parts. These are people who have literally lost everything but the ability to breathe. Homeless, foodless, stranded in a land that is not theirs, facing questions in a language that they do not understand. Forced to exile, burnt, beaten and tormented by their own kind, these poor souls are seeking a moment of peace. Human cruelty has a new meaning for us. The whole world has spoken out, thousands of individuals and organizations have come forward and we too could not stay away from it anymore - simply because the whole situation is just unbearable!

Friendship staff went to assess the situation

A team of our front-runners went to assess the situation. They travelled to the interiors of an area called the Ukhia Upazila. What they reported after returning is totally heart wrenching. One of the members, a very senior development worker, states “I have been working in disaster management for over twenty years but I have never seen such cruelty from any natural disaster. I have always kept myself professional and emotion free but this time I could not hold back my tears. These are human beings that are being tormented like this, not animals and human beings are doing it to them!

Another senior official narrates a suffocating tale of this young Rakhine women who could not leave behind her newborn to fetch food and water from the camps as she does not know anyone and does not understand the language the volunteers speak. Without food and water, she became frail and her body stopped lactating. The poor child is too weak, searches for solace on her bosoms but its dry. She punches her chest in despair and in hope for a drop of milk for her child.

Rohingya refugees

They met another family who crossed the border two days before but they are not going forward to the camp, instead they are waiting for the man of the house to cross the border and meet them. They are waiting at an advantageous position from where they can see anyone who is coming in to this land. The family could not travel together as there was a question of money so the mother and children came first and now they await the man of the house. She has no money, cannot communicate with volunteers with her mother tongue and cannot go to fetch food leaving her children behind. Every second she thinks her husband has arrived. Our team tried to give her money but she seems unaware of its importance. Her eyes fixed on the road.

Some of the refugees are living under polythene-made temporary shelter

While coming back from the border area of Ghum Dhum the team encounters a woman lying senseless on the roads. With the help of a Friendship Community Medic Aide Daisy, the team manages to take the woman to the nearest health camp where she is treated with medicines and fluids. Apparently, she and her family took refuge in one of the camps. Everything around was so alien to them that they did not feel comfortable leaving one another, not even for fetching food. After a few days of hunger the man finally took the children and went in search of food. The woman waited for another half a day for their return and then went in search of her family and eventually collapsed.

An old women and a child stranded not knowing what to do next

These people are frightened in a new land, with the new status that they have obtained and with the new turn that fate has taken. Our team reports that all the individuals and organizations are doing the best they can do from their hearts. The problem is so unique, so multifaceted and so new to us that every day they realize that there is a new thing to do. The gaps need to be identified and they need to be filled with the right skill set from the right set of people and organizations. They need to play to their strengths.

Friendship has already started planning to deploy some of their health clinics. We will definitely take on every area within our capability and stand by these beautiful people in this time of need.

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