Children on the Edge are uniquely placed to respond to the crisis with seven years of experience working within the Rohingya refugee community.
A few of our staff have just returned from visiting our work in the Kutupalong camp and have reported that the camp’s population is currently estimated at 325,000. With Kutupalong likely to merge soon with neighbouring Balukhali camp, the numbers are set to rise to 400,000. The population density is 66,000 per km sq, creating appalling conditions.
Our Asia Regional Manager, John Littleton says “As is common in situations of crisis, the primary issue facing relief efforts amongst the many agencies in the camps is one of coordination. This, coupled with the pressure to demonstrate results to donors, has led to a wealth of rash decisions and poorly delivered services across multiple sectors”.
We are working to avoid these pitfalls in each area of provision in the following ways:
Food distribution is being handled in a fairly consistent manner across the camps, but the white rice that is most widely distributed lacks some essential nutrients. Children on the Edge are providing lentils to supplement the rice, along with salt, sugar, soybean oil and oral rehydration sachets. So far we’ve been able to support 5,800 newly arrived families with these food parcels in the areas with the least resources.
Solar Light provision has replaced our plans for cash transfers, which have now been banned by the Bangladeshi government. Many families are without a source of light for the evening. This is problematic for cooking and other tasks, and makes travel around the camp dangerous at night. We have ordered strong, waterproof and portable units which are expected to arrive in the first week of December for approximately 5,333 families.
To complement the World Food Programme's provision of rice, our food parcels currently contain lentils, salt, sugar, soybean oil and oral rehydration sachets.
Clean water is mainly provided through the digging of tube wells. Currently, the camps are littered with hastily constructed wells, many of which have not been dug to the correct depth and have dried up. Many are not certified as clean or are placed too close to latrines, causing contamination.
We are working with ACF and training local staff to install 20 high quality tube wells with a depth of 600ft or greater, and two concrete chambers: one for washing clothes and dishes and one for pure water for cooking and drinking. The chambers are separate, so the two don’t mix and contaminate.
Latrines are also widely installed throughout the camps, with a similar degree of poor workmanship. ACF estimate that 70% of the newly dug latrines are dug at a far too shallow level and 1 in 3 are already at, or near capacity, with no indication of follow-on maintenance. Our provision will either take the form of biogas latrine facilities (which utilise waste to provide clean cooking fuel), biofil latrines or permanent latrines dug to the proper level and well maintained. Both latrines and tube well will al be completed by the end of January 2018.
In terms of education and safe spaces for children, while there are scores of prominently-signed ‘Child Friendly Spaces’ throughout the camp, the activities in each venue vary greatly. During a five-day period, we checked 22 spaces. Only nine had an adult presence there. A further six at least had some play materials and supplies, with the remaining seven appearing to labeled but empty and unused.
Children on the Edge are ‘doubling up’ our 45 refugee schools in between classes, as safe spaces for new arrivals (see video below). We are also in the process of identifying areas with the greatest concentration of newly arrived children, without access to schooling. In blocks of the camp that we have already surveyed, there is approximately 31,000 school-aged children who have had no contact with a Child Friendly Space or a non-religious school.
We have already gained agreement to build up to 100 new semi-permanent learning centres, with the aim of beginning to provide education for 10,000 children by February 2018 in a two shift system.
Ben Wilkes, Executive Director says “These new centres will draw on our experience, providing colourful and innovative schools which stand out for their excellence. Our main concern is that these children have consistent support, long after the current flurry of attention subsides.”