Bangladesh (MNN) — They have survived genocide, rape, beatings, and hunger. But now the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have to survive a new threat: monsoon rains.
The Rohingya people are a stateless minority from Myanmar who fled ethnic violence. Many of them ended up in Bangladesh. While the repatriation process was postponed, most have no desire to return to Myanmar.
The Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh is now the largest in the world with over one million people. But it is not in a great spot.
Gary Edmonds with Food for the Hungry explains, “They have…created these what are called ‘spontaneous settlements’. In other words, they find some open land [and] they find some places where they try to create a little bit of shelter, get some food, water, [and] sanitation conditions. But it so happens that where they have settled is also in a highly vulnerable floodplain.”
The monsoon rain in the refugee camp brings the dangers of collapsing buildings and tents, floods, landslides, and waterborne diseases. Bangladesh’s monsoon season typically lasts from June to October. The first weekend of monsoon season in early June saw 15 inches of rain and winds roaring in at 43 miles per hour.
“With the rains as well as these very, very concentrated living environments, you’ve got a situation where malaria, cholera, diphtheria — waterborne illnesses — are likely to be spread, and spread rapidly.”
Food for the Hungry is trying to get ahead of the problem in the Rohingya refugee camp, along with fellow ministry partners.
“We have been a part with Medical Teams International of building health clinics…and then educating the people and training healthcare workers to allow them to navigate this kind of a season. [The problem is] you just can’t get to the health clinics right now. Roads are literally washed out. There is no way of transport.”
Part of the solution is to train local Rohingya people in disease prevention and sanitation so they can teach others in the camps. Footbridges will also hopefully be built over flooded roads and gullies so people can still get across.
Tangible aid is also still needed. “We try to equip them as best we can with boots and rain slickers and garments and so forth…. The second side of it is to get clean water and to get food to these people. That’s what Food for the Hungry is working at as well right now.”
As Edmonds puts it, “A hard place has simply just become harder for us to work and operate in. But nevertheless, it doesn’t inhibit us in a sense and it doesn’t create a situation where we’re simply just trying to wait it out.”
As believers, there are multiple things we can do to respond to the Rohingya crisis. But one thing we can’t do as a Church is nothing.
“This is the kind of thing that breaks God’s heart as a father who has created these people in His image. Therefore, might it break our heart in such a way that it will lead us to respond, and respond appropriately [at] this time in history. I think this is one of the crucial ways that we can be witnesses to the love and the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.”
Edmonds suggests, “First of all, search, go on the web, get yourself educated. Many, many people are not educated about the Rohingya people and the crisis and all that is happening. This is viewed as likely one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies of history — more than one million people who are stateless people.”
Additionally, Father’s Day was earlier this week. With this focus recently on our minds, Edmonds says we can pray that the Rohingya people would come to know their Heavenly Father.
“God the Father has actually fashioned, created these people. They are handmade people by the Father of Heaven. He loves them,…He knows them by name, He knows their gifts and their skills and their abilities. So pray that God would intervene.
“Then lastly, if you are inclined, if you are looking at this, we would love for people to give. This is one of those kinds of crisis areas. We do get some grants from larger groups, UN bodies, and so forth, but we need to constantly supplement that for our staff. Private donations, people who give, churches who give are the instrumental way for us to actually respond.”
(Header photo courtesy of Jordi Bernabeu Farrús via Flickr: https://goo.gl/daSWrS)