refugee crisis

Monsoon may bring a flood of troubles for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh’s refugee camps

Thousands of refugees living on the hill slopes in Cox’s Bazaar are especially vulnerable.

Some 25,000 Rohingyas living in the camps built on the steep slopes of hills in Cox’s Bazar are in grave danger of mudslides during the coming monsoon.

Abdullah, who hailed from Buthidaung Township’s Kinisi village in Rakhine, built a shed at a steep slope in Balukhali area after fleeing Myanmar on September 19, 2017. Talking about his life in Bangladesh, he said: “When we came here [Cox’s Bazar], it was late autumn and the hills were quite inhabitable. “Now, we are in fear because of the monsoon, as the hilly areas become very dangerous for living during the rainy season due to the soft, unstable and slippery ground.”

The Rohingya refugee added: “We have heard about the measures taken by Bangladesh government and aid agencies regarding our relocation but no one has come to us yet. I am just worried for my six children, wife and my parents and feeling afraid thinking about the upcoming possible curse of the nature [monsoon].”

Apart from the refugees living on the slopes, about 175,000 Rohingyas living in the camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas would also face hardships in monsoon, a study by the government’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission said.

If these refugees are not relocated to a safe zone soon, many will fall victim to the coming inclement weather. According to the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry’s Rohingya Cell, nearly 700,000 displaced Rohingyas entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, joining about 400,000 others who were already living in squalid, cramped camps in Cox’s Bazar. However, the Rohingya influx still continues.

Recently, some experts from Dhaka University, Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and International Organisation for Migration carried out an assessment at the camps and found that up to one-third of the settlement areas could be flooded during the rainy seasons.

Shamsud Douza, additional commissioner at Cox’s Bazar-based Office of Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Primarily, we are assuming that about 200,000 (including the ones living on slopes) people in the camps are at risk of mudslide and flood.”

Experts say mudslides will have a range of impacts like casualties and will also disrupt the aid distribution process, which majority of refugees depend on.

They said if the latrines, washrooms, and tube wells get flooded then it would lead to water contamination and cholera, worsening the living conditions in the camps.

Flooding increases the risk of disease outbreaks and could also threaten access to medical facilities also.

Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a climate researcher at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The arrival of Rohingya has led to changes in land cover [deforestation and hill cutting] and its use [some farmers renting their agricultural land for people to build shelters]. These changes have impacts on the hydrology of the area, the type of hazards and the magnitude of risks.”

Raining calamities

Monitoring the impact in and around the camps during the pre-monsoon or cyclone season and monsoon season is important as to learn how risk has changed compared to the previous years. The experts suggest that the key stakeholders are needed to be included in the discussions to understand the complexity in which the Rohingyas and the host people are currently involved in.

Andrew said: “We are leveraging Nasa-funded project to explore the establishment of a global collaborative effort, whereby local and regional actors can collaborate with Nasa and other global research organisations to explore how to think about frameworks for short term and medium term disaster risk reduction.”

He said: “In other words, host communities could be at risk to new types of floods, such as flash floods, because of the changes in their environment, and they may not be aware of it. “Partners are working together to include those smaller camps and host communities in the risk assessments.”

Sexagenarian Latif Ahmad, who is living in Kutupalang Rohingya camp, said he was worried as the polythene-made tents lack the ability to face any natural calamity. The refugee from Maungdaw said: “After last year’s violence, we were sheltered in camps in Cox’s Bazar. In Burma [Myanmar], the army ruined us and here, we faced the curse of the weather like sudden rain and cold wave in January. Now, the monsoon is scaring us.”

The aid agencies fear that elderly and disabled people, infants and children, people suffering from malnutrition, pregnant women will mostly be affected in the season.

Saleha Begum of Maungdaw’s Hatipara said: “It was a forest when I first arrived here . I want to move from here [hills] before the monsoon. I do not know what I will do during the rains. It depends on Allah.”

Preparation for the monsoon

The government said the risky areas have been already marked with red flags and the members of Fire Brigade and Civil Defence, and Disaster Management and Relief Ministry have been campaigning to create awareness among the Rohingyas.

The government held a meeting with the aid organisations and the stakeholders regarding the matter on March 4. The decision to move the Rohingyas to a safer place by April 15 was taken in the meeting presided over by Disaster Management and Relief Ministry’s Secretary Md Shah Kamal. At the meeting, the speakers also pointed out that the safe places in the existing camps can only accommodate about 40,000 to 45,000 Rohingyas, so the government is thinking of moving the other vulnerable refugees to Bhashan Char by June.

The Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission said the vulnerable Rohingyas are being moved to camp number 17 and 18, where 5,035 refugees belonging to 1,188 families would be sheltered by April 15.

Besides, the most vulnerable people are being re-sheltered at safer locations in their present camps.

Apart from that, 100,000 Rohingyas will be sent to Bhashan Char and Bangladesh Navy has already started building houses and cyclone shelters for them following a specific model.

Another 540 acres of forest land, which lies in the north-west of the existing Kutupalong expansion camp in Ukhiya and Teknaf, was allocated for the relocation of Rohingyas at risk of natural calamity.

Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain said: “The risk-prone Rohingya camps will be evicted and the Rohingyas will be relocated in the newly allocated lands. We have identified the vulnerable Rohingyas who would be directly subject to mudslide, cyclone, and tidal waves in the coming monsoon. RRRC [Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission] and aid agencies are working for the relocation. The aid organisations have already started levelling the hilly grounds of the newly allocated land.”

Andrew Kruczkiewicz said: “Overall, we were impressed with the coordination between IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and UNHCR and the other organisations. We understand that this is an ongoing situation with several unprecedented factors. Understanding how climate and weather information is used to support decision making was something that we see can be enhanced.”

Regarding core principles of the International Research Institute, he said: “I suggest you reach out to the protection working group of the Inter Sector Coordination Group, who recently organised training on key protection principles for facilitators in safety units. Training materials included general guiding principles, best practices, PSEA and technical knowledge on both Child Protection and Gender Based Violence victims. Following the Training of Trainers, relevant training sessions will be carried out by the trained facilitators at the field level in all camps for community volunteers.”

This article first appeared on the Dhaka Tribune.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.