By Mutasim Billah
Three UN agencies have warned that $794 million is needed to cover a shortfall in funding that will allow critical lifesaving work to proceed for Rohingya refugees before the monsoon season arrives.
In a joint press release on Tuesday, the heads of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Program (WFP) in Cox’s Bazar underscored the urgent need for more funding.
The Joint Response Appeal from all key agencies working on the Rohingya response in Cox’s Bazar has secured just 16 percent of a total $950 million needed for the response until the end of the year -- leaving a $794 million shortfall.
The statement came as the humanitarian agencies announced the completion of the first new area of land being prepared to relocate families most at risk of landslides when the monsoon hits.
The work is part of a major joint initiative between IOM, UNHCR and WFP.
“With the monsoon season almost upon us, we will continue working urgently to prepare more land, coordinate services, secure vital access ways and ensure we are ready to respond to emergency situations when they arise,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.
Kevin J. Allen, head of the UNHCR’s operations in Cox’s Bazar, said: “We’re very happy to be able to move to the next stage in this ambitious project, which has been a great example of inter-agency collaboration in support of the government of Bangladesh.”
“It will be a race against time to get everything ready so that the most vulnerable families at high risk of landslides and flooding can be moved to safety before the worst of the monsoon season gets underway,” he added.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, some 750,000 Rohingya, mostly children and women, have fled Myanmar when Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community, according to the Amnesty International, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district to around 900,000.
The vast majority of the refugees are living under tarpaulins and in bamboo shelters on steep sandy slopes in the desperately overcrowded mega camp.
Across all the settlements, around 200,000 people have been identified as being at high risk of floods and landslides when Bangladesh’s notorious cyclone season and heavy monsoons hit in the coming weeks. The immediate priority is to try to relocate around 24,000 people at the highest risk of landslide disasters.
“Our priority is to ensure the safety of refugees during this critical time of year”, said Mohammad Abul Kalam, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.
Japan provides funding to support Rohingya children
On Tuesday, UNICEF received $15.7 million in funding from Japan to support Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar.
The grant will allow UNICEF and its partners to continue providing child protection, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation support to refugee children and women and their families.
Praising the much-needed support in the first six months of the crisis, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder said: “UNICEF Bangladesh is grateful to the government and people of Japan for their generous support during a time of immense crisis. With this new funding, we will be able to scale up our interventions to save more lives and continue with our ongoing support in providing safe drinking water and sanitation, healthcare to children, newborns, and pregnant mothers, and strengthen the resilience of the affected host population.”
UNICEF has appealed for $144.6 million in 2018 to respond to the refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar. So far, it has 30 percent of the funding available against its 2018 appeal requirement. An additional $100.8 million is required to fully deliver on the response.
At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in the Rakhine state from August 25 to September 24, according to Doctors Without Borders.
In a report published on Dec. 12, the global humanitarian organization said the deaths of 71.7 percent or 6,700 Rohingya were caused by violence. They include 730 children below the age of 5.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.