Within the Rohingya refugee camps situated outside of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the lanes are crowded, thick with people in motion. Turning your head in any direction, you are swallowed by the deep sense of humanity and are carried along in the sea of movement. The mass movement of people seeking survival, relief and better lives.
More than 700,000 of these refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, and the latest threat to their survival comes not only from food insecurity, unsafe housing and disease, but the weather.
Officials, organizations, and local populations are working overtime to prepare for heavy seasonal monsoons that could start as early as March. The refugee camps, which sit on land that was once a densely-forested jungle, now perch atop space cleared of any vegetation and encompass hundreds of thousands of temporary dwellings. Officials are concerned that the coming downpours could wash away a large number of the camp’s fragile structures.
In addition, infrastructure such as roads and water systems are also vulnerable to flooding. This means that roads can be cut off and limited to only foot traffic. Imagine ferrying life-saving supplies and medications on foot through mud or carrying sick or injured individuals on stretchers or other makeshift slings. Other concerns include the spread of infectious disease, and outbreaks of diphtheria and measles, which have already occurred in the camps. If flooding compromises water supplies, other diseases, like cholera, could crop up.
In advance of these storms, I traveled to Bangladesh in January to train medical professionals in emergency response techniques. While many health professionals know about and are trained in individual, clinical emergency care, disaster response plans that have been practiced and implemented can be rare. In addition, given the increased crowding and density of populations, training for mass casualty and triage, as well as road traffic accidents and drownings, was also needed.
By preparing, training and practicing, as well as pre-positioning supplies and equipment in advance, we aim to significantly reduce suffering, trauma, and mortality. Preparing for emergencies saves lives, and the time to do so is now.
The scale of the refugee crisis is immense, but from the overwhelming, incomprehensible numbers, stories of individual humanity emerge. Every single person working at Hope Hospital recalls a story of a refugee that moved them, and of the need to help. It reminds us that being human is defined by empathy and compassion and that each of us should lean into the suffering of another rather than turn away.