Since 25 August, an estimated 613,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, fleeing violence in Myanmar. The total refugee population in the area is now over 826,000.
The makeshift sites where the Rohingyas have settled are desperately overcrowded and located on inhospitable, hilly terrain with insufficient drainage and little or no road access. The few roads that exist are impossibly congested, making it extremely difficult to reach refugees with the support and services they need.
In the Kutupalong – Balukhali Expansion Site, which is now home to an estimated 423,000 refugees, and where IOM, the UN Migration Agency is responsible for coordinating site management, many areas are extremely difficult to access.
People hike for hours under the scorching sun, often carrying heavy loads from distribution points, to reach their shelters. Steep hills and dangerous paths mean that children, the elderly and people with disabilities are often unable to move around the site.
In October, IOM built some 850 metres of road into Balukhali to enable humanitarian agencies to deliver lifesaving assistance to at least 50,000 refugees. “The road has vastly improved access for both refugees and humanitarian actors,” said IOM Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Project Officer Stephen Waswa Otieno.
“Contractors can now deliver materials inside the site, which has allowed us to build new, essential infrastructure. For example, one of our partners has just built a new distribution centre, bringing aid much closer to the families who need it,” he notes.
IOM is currently working on six other road projects, providing more access from main roads outside the sites, and inside the sites. It is also building five bridges, which will allow people and vehicles to cross canals and streams in different parts of the sites, which currently make access impossible.
IOM is also working to mitigate the threat of landslides on the newly de-forested land where many of the shelters perch on steep hillsides. IOM teams have been distributing bags that the refugees can fill with soil and use to create retaining walls and steps. These can also be used to raise shelters off mud floors, helping to keep them dry, especially when flash floods occur.