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BD army steps up as Rohingya suffer heavy rain

September 21, 2017

COX’S BAZAR: Bangladesh’s army was ordered on Wednesday to take a bigger role helping hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar, amid warnings it could take six months to register the new refugees.

Troops would be deployed immediately in Cox’s Bazar near the border where more than 420,000 Rohingya Muslims have arrived since Aug 25, said Obaidul Quader, a senior minister and deputy head of the ruling Awami League party.

Soldiers would help build shelters and toilets for the thousands of refugees still sleeping in the open under pounding monsoon rain, Quader said. “The army presence is especially needed on the spot to construct their shelters, which is a very tough task, and ensure sanitation,” he said.

The latest order came from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Quader said. The soldiers would also ensure order and assist with distributing relief, a chaotic process that seen stampedes as donors have hurled food and other staples from moving trucks. Previously troops had been tasked with transporting foreign relief supplies from the country’s port city of Chittagong airport to Cox’s Bazar where the overcrowded camps are located.

As the handful of ill-equipped camps rapidly reached capacity, Bangla­desh announced it would create a new site capable of housing some 400,000 refugees within 10 days.

Extra water pumps have been installed at some locations, and concrete rings for latrines stockpiled along the roadside. But there were few signs of major construction work underway, with many refugees complaining they were being ordered to move on without any idea where to go.

Local authorities have set up a dozen relief centres and several emergency kitchens to streamline aid distribution.

Monsoon downpours are compounding the misery. Cox’s Bazar has been pounded with 8.4 inches of rain in the past five days, raising fears of landslides in the unstable, muddy hills on which thousands of refugees were camped. Hundreds of refugees were forced to abandon their shanties on Wednesday in a rubber plantation after heavy rain flooded the area, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2017