Doctors Without Borders has warned that refugee camps in Bangladesh are on the brink of a “health disaster” amid an influx of Rohingya Muslims from neighboring Myanmar.
Over the past month, nearly 430,000 Rohingya have fled from a brutal army-led crackdown across the border in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The United Nations has described the crackdown as “ethnic cleansing.”
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym as MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), warned on Thursday that waste water and feces were flowing all around the chaotic camps, creating “a public health disaster.”
MSF said to manage the emergency “a massive scale-up of humanitarian aid is needed in Bangladesh.”
“We are receiving adults every day on the cusp of dying from dehydration,” said Kate White, the group’s emergency medical coordinator. “That’s very rare among adults, and signals that a public health emergency could be just around the corner.”
There are no official roads into the slum-like settlements that have sprung up outside official camps, complicating aid delivery in the hilly, mud-slicked terrain.
“There is a complete absence of latrines,” added White. “When you walk through the settlement, you have to wade through streams of dirty water and human faeces.”
‘Tipping point between crisis and catastrophe’
Bangladeshi troops were deployed this week to build more toilets and shelters for thousands still sleeping out in the open despite regular monsoon rains.
On Friday, the UN Refugee Agency said it was speeding up the distribution of plastic sheeting to provide basic protection from the elements as authorities work on erecting a new 2,000-acre shelter.
The camps are “bursting at the seams and yes, there are risks of diseases, so that is why the extension is so crucial,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
The potential of an infectious disease outbreak is “very high,” according to Doctors Without Borders, citing the rapid population increase and low vaccination coverage among the Rohingya, who lived in impoverished conditions in Myanmar.
“One small event could lead to an outbreak that may be the tipping point between a crisis and a catastrophe,” said MSF emergency coordinator Robert Onus.
The recent exodus of Rohingya has brought the number of refugees from Rakhine living in Bangladesh to over 800,000.
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine have been subject to systematic persecution and violence at the hands of the military and Buddhist mobs for decades.
The UN has said that the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Myanmar’s government forces do not even spare the fleeing Rohingya refugees. Recent reports by Amnesty International and Bangladeshi officials say the military plants landmines on the path of those trying to cross into Bangladesh, causing them to sustain serious wounds or lose their limbs.