Bangladeshi authorities plans to allocate more land for camps housing Rohingya refugees as concerns grow over a possible outbreak of disease in crowded, makeshift settlements clustered at the country’s southern tip, Reuters informs.
About 625,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to sanctuary in Bangladesh from violence, looting and destruction in neighboring Myanmar after government forces launched a counter insurgency following attacks by Rohingya militants in late August.
The exodus has taken the Rohingya refugee population to 837,000, making Bangladesh one of the world’s largest, most crowded settlement of asylum-seekers.
More than 60 percent of the water supply in the camps is contaminated with bacteria as temporary latrines overflow into hastily-built, shallow wells, a World Health Organization survey showed, Reuters adds.
“There is a high risk of a public health event, not just cholera and acute watery diarrhea,” said Naim Talukder of the group Action Against Hunger, who is coordinating the efforts of 31 groups and agencies to manage water, sanitation and hygiene.
Most refugees live in flimsy bamboo and canvas shelters in an area crowded well beyond emergency standards, said Graham Eastmond, an official of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM is among the organizations that have urged Bangladesh to free up more land and allow a wider spread of settlements.
“You are talking a third of the international standard. We need to decongest urgently and obviously, to do that, we need more land.” Eastmond noted.
Last week, Bangladesh approved a $280-million project to develop an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house 100,000 Rohingya, despite criticism from rights groups.
According to Eastmond, the overcrowding spells health and safety risks, from rapidly spreading water-borne and communicable diseases to landslides and flooding, besides swelling the threat to vulnerable children and women, Reuters writes.