Over 40,000 Rohingya families in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar refugee camps have now been trained in shelter upgrade techniques ahead of the fast approaching monsoon and cyclone season. Women are playing a key role as part of a major project being rolled out by IOM, the UN migration agency.
With the first rain already affecting the camps, IOM now has completed its shelter upgrade trainings, but will continue to support workshops run by partner agencies. These show refugees how best to secure their shelters ahead of the strong winds and heavy rain expected in May.
In total 100,000 families will be reached through the trainings, while IOM is overseeing the roll out of a similar number of upgrade kits containing ropes, bamboo, tarpaulin and tools.
At least 120,000 people are expected to be at grave risk of landslides and floods when the monsoon hits the steep sandy slopes of the Cox's Bazar settlements, where almost a million Rohingya refugees are now living after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.
Dabal Rokaha, an IOM programme officer overseeing the trainings, said the workshops had proved hugely popular with the refugee community, with the number of women taking part steadily increasing, until women regularly outnumbered men.
"Often their husbands are busy taking part in cash-for-work programmes [to improve ground conditions in the camps.] When we started the trainings there might be 20 men and 5 women, but now we often see 70 per cent female participation. The women are getting more confident. They will take ownership of what they learn and when they go back to their shelters, their husbands will listen to them and take their advice," she said.
Tasmin, a 25-year-old mother of four, was among those who took part in an IOM shelter upgrade workshop. "I feel good now I've had this training and I'm very pleased to have learned these things. They taught me how to build my shelter stronger. Now I can show my husband how to do these things. If we apply the things we've learned, our shelter will be better and we won't face so many problems," she said.
With monsoon and cyclone season just weeks away, urgent action is underway by IOM and partner agencies, along with the government of Bangladesh, to improve conditions in the camps and help the refugees to build resilience against the dangers to come.
In addition to shelter upgrades, thousands of families at risk are also being relocated to safer ground. IOM is working with WFP and UNHCR in the race to prepare more land for people to set up their shelters in safer locations less prone to flooding and landslides.
But despite the efforts underway, the topography of the camps and the expected weather conditions ahead mean that mitigating against all disaster is near impossible. IOM is also training refugees in search and rescue and first aid.
IOM and its partners have been working with the Bangladesh authorities over the past months to create roads, pathways, bridges and drains, and to stabilise land, which will help keep vital access ways open during the rain. Portering teams have also been created to bring in supplies on foot, if necessary. Distribution sites have been established in remote areas so that even if parts of the camp are cut off, people will still have access to aid.
But the cost of the operation has spiralled and IOM is now urgently appealing for additional funds and the cash shortfall is threatening the ability of aid agencies to respond to the inevitable emergencies that will arise during monsoon. To date just 7.0 per cent of IOM's US$ 182 million funding appeal for the rest of the year has been secured. The overall US$ 951 million Joint Response Plan for all agencies has secured just $23 million.
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