Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
The United Nations on Wednesday released $14 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for thousands of Rohingya families affected by Monday’s disastrous fire in a camp at Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar.
Around 45,000 Rohingyas have been displaced due to the fire, with approximately 400 missing and 11 deceased. The fire has also destroyed the camp’s main hospital and other important health, nutrition and education centres, according to the UN.
“This fire has ripped through one of the most vulnerable communities in the world. Rohingya refugees need our support now more than ever, as the pandemic continues to take its toll and they approach the monsoon season,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and coordinator for Emergency Relief.
“Rohingya refugees themselves have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the aid workers, volunteering their services to support response efforts in the camps. Now is the moment for the international community to stand by them,” he added.
The money from the CERF will help set up and rebuild shelter and provide affected people with food, water and sanitation services, mental and psychosocial health assistance and other emergency support.
The Kutupalong camp network, the largest in the world, is home to the vast majority of more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in Cox’s Bazar.
People displaced by the fire have sought refuge in nearby camps, shelters and learning centres, and at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transit sites.
NGOs have set up child-friendly spaces at central points to receive and care for lost and unidentified children.
Additional aid from Australia
Meanwhile, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne on Thursday announced $10 million in emergency assistance from the existing humanitarian budget to those affected by the fire.
“This funding is in addition to the over $260 million Australia has provided to the humanitarian response for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh since 2017,” she said.
Their additional support will be provided through the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the devastating fire at Kutupalong Balukali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones,” Payne said in a statement.
She commended the response of the Bangladesh government and Rohingya volunteers who assisted with bringing the fire under control and the initial rescue operation, and the humanitarian agencies delivering food assistance, emergency shelter, and water and sanitation services for those affected.
“Australia is committed to sustaining our humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar,” Payne added.
In January, more than 3,500 refugees were also left homeless when a fire destroyed around 550 shelters and 150 shops in the Nayapara camp, about 30 kms south of Kutupalong.
According to IOM and NGO Brac, the fire destroyed more than 10,000 structures including shelters, mosques, community centres, learning centres, service centres, shops and offices.
The structures included two nutrition centres and one food distribution centre run by the WFP and a health clinic run by IOM.
Two other WFP nutrition sites and one e-voucher outlet have been closed until the damage can be assessed.
Since the fire, several teams from UN agencies and partners along with government officials have been on the ground, fighting the blaze, evacuating people, providing first aid, food and water, and helping trace missing family members.
As of Wednesday, according to IOM, 2,000 families were provided with shelter and non-food-item kits to help with initial cleaning and setting up temporary shelters.
Manuel Marques Pereira, deputy chief of mission at IOM Bangladesh, said a critical activity over the next coming weeks will be to improve shelter conditions and provide basic sanitation before the monsoon season starts.
“We want to use this process with the community to help convince them that we need wider roads, fire bricks, we need different layout and we need some arrangement that makes the entire Camp 9 and the surrounding camps communities much safer, much stronger and the capacity to cope with the challenges that will come ahead,” Pereira said.
The UN CERF, which has assisted hundreds of millions of people with almost $7 billion across more than 100 countries and territories since 2005, pools contributions from various donors, including governments, foundations, companies, charities and individuals, to help people affected by crises.