Bangladesh

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The context

Mercy Corps began supporting partner NGOs in Bangladesh in 2018 to assist the more than 1.3 million people now in the country who need humanitarian assistance — including new and prior Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis in host communities.

Our partnership efforts are focused on providing assistance to communities affected by the crisis as well as laying the foundation for recovery. We will work with partners, Bangladeshis and those fleeing violence to improve health and safety and strengthen local economies.

Bangladesh is a country of 163 million people — making it the world’s eighth most populous country. It’s also one of the most prone to natural disasters. Between 30 and 50 percent of the population in Bangladesh is affected by extreme climate shocks each year.

Bangladesh fast facts

Prior to the influx of Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh was already grappling with humanitarian challenges:

  • Almost one in four Bangladeshis live in poverty.
  • Roughly 36 percent of children under five are malnourished; in the poorest communities, up to 50 percent of children are suffering. A total of 5.5 million children under five are chronically malnourished.
  • Between 2005 and 2015, droughts, floods, landslides and storms affected the lives of 46 million people and caused around 6,900 deaths.
  • Severe monsoon flooding has adversely affected the livelihood of more than 8 million people in 32 districts, as well as rice production.

These challenges have only increased since Rohingya refugees began crossing into Bangladesh. Since August 2017, an estimated 687,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in southeastern Bangladesh. At the height of the migration, some 15,000 people were crossing the border into Bangladesh each day.

Rohingya refugee fast facts

Now that many Rohingya refugees have sought safety amongst Bangladeshis, there are more people in need than ever:

  • More than 1.3 million people now in Bangladesh need humanitarian assistance — including new and prior Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis in host communities.
  • Nearly 60 percent of the refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh are children.
  • In the first three months of 2018, there were an estimated 15,480 Rohingya babies born.
  • Almost two-thirds of pregnant women have no access to gynecological and obstetrical services. There are an estimated 60,000 pregnant Rohingya women in the camps.
  • 77 percent of women and young girls living in the 27 identified settlement sites hosting refugees across Cox’s Bazar District reported feeling unsafe.

The Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

The camps in Cox’s Bazar, where many refugees are located, are grievously overcrowded. There are no electricity sub-stations near the camp, making the lighting of congested uneven pathways, washrooms and dwellings difficult, if not impossible. This, in turn, has increased risks to women, young children and the elderly.

Gender-based violence threats are increasing because a lack of proper lighting is exacerbating the poor security. This is leading women and young girls to refuse to go to washrooms after dusk, increasing risks to their health.

There is limited communal land for safe spaces for women and girls, forcing them either travel long distances or rely on limited mobile services to receive humanitarian assistance and services.

Within the crowded refugee camps, a sex trade is flourishing — with children making up many of the sex workers — so people can earn money to buy clean water, firewood, food and other essential supplies.

Rohingya refugee host communities

The pace of job creation in Bangladesh has fallen in recent years, increasing competition for employment. If this is not addressed, the sudden influx of refugees could lead to an increase in community tensions.

Beyond the immediate needs of the Rohingya refugees, the communities that have taken them in are also in need. In a matter of three months, the population of Cox’s Bazar district doubled, placing tremendous strain on the host communities and Bangladesh as a whole.

With such a large influx of people, the lands and forests around Cox’s Bazar are being overused. Tensions between the Rohingya and the host communities are growing over use of agricultural land and firewood. With almost 1 million refugees in the area, deforestation is a major issue as people cut down nearby forests for firewood. With fewer trees, erosion is worsened, leading to increased danger from mudslides in the monsoon season.

Climate change in Bangladesh

Climate change is also threatening many of the development gains in Bangladesh of the last 20 to 30 years. Frequent flooding threatens lives and livelihoods, and rising seas are swallowing the shorelines. By some accounts, climate change in Bangladesh triggered one of the largest mass migrations in human history.

Recent riverbank erosion has caused the displacement of 50,000 to 200,000 people. There are 4 million people on islands the government describes as “immediately threatened.” As a result of climate change, it’s more expensive for Bangladeshis to buy food and feed their families.

Climate change and rising sea levels have significantly contaminated groundwater and drinking water for coastal regions, and rendered farmland less fertile and more difficult to cultivate. Sea level rise has also caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of mangrove forests, which act as critical protection against storm surges during cyclones.

Our work

In the midst of the one of the world’s most pressing refugee crises, Mercy Corps sees an opportunity to address the urgent needs of refugees and, at the same time, help the host communities build resilience and transform their communities. Mercy Corps will find opportunities to support our NGO partners and the Bangladeshi people even while addressing the urgent Rohingya refugee crisis.

As we see elsewhere around the world, no one government or organization can address all the needs of the Rohingya and their host communities, or solve the crisis. It will take a concerted and coordinated effort by multiple organizations and the government of Bangladesh to address the crisis.

To address immediate needs of the displaced population, Mercy Corps is partnering with registered NGOs to support the following activities in the district of Cox’s Bazar:

  • Electricity: Mercy Corps is partnering with Friendship Bangladesh, a national NGO, to install 60 solar street lights in 10 of their toilet clusters. The main focus is the protection of women and young children from the gender-based violence committed in the camps.