Fire at the Rohingya Camps: Lessons and Initial Recommendations
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury:
Dhaka 31 March 2021:
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have left Myanmar in order to escape the Myanmar army’s massacres. It seems that their sufferings are unending! Even while living in the densely populated Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, they have been affected by numerous natural and man-made disasters. The devastating fire on March 22, 2021, at one of the world’s largest refugee camps, the Kutupalong Balukhali, added to their misery.
According to estimates, the fire destroyed and damaged over 12,000 shelters, affecting over 61,000 Rohingya refugees and the host community; 13 people were killed, 563 were injured, and 400 remain missing, including children; and approximately 50,000 people were displaced.
We are also waiting for the final investigative report to learn what caused the burn. However, we must act quickly to reduce the possibility of such catastrophic events in the future. To secure both the Rohingya and the host communities, we should take some immediate and long-term steps.
We should study the situation, incidences, and some realities of the camps before making recommendations or thinking of possible solutions to future disasters.
It is self-evident that the existence of the tens of thousands of shelters raises the likelihood of a catastrophe. Almost all of the shelters are made of bamboo and tarpaulin, both of which are highly flammable. The dense nature of these mega-camps, combined with the materials used to build shelters and tents, poses serious fire protection issues. Women from the Rohingya community, on the other hand, were not used to handling LPG. Gas cylinders were installed without proper knowledge of the risks associated with them. Though there is no proof that the gas cylinders were the cause of the massive fire, there are compelling reasons to regard them as a major hazard in the future.
Firefighting officials failed to reach the fireplace after the fire broke out because the roads were not suitable for driving fire trucks or transporting firefighting equipment. Another source of concern was water shortage. There is a lack of sufficient water reservoirs within the camps. Firefighters were limited to using only the water they had on hand.
We must take steps to minimize the chances of this happening again in the future. First and foremost, we must encourage healthy cooking practices at the camps. We encountered a gas cylinder being used inside a small shelter without the appropriate distance between the containers, combustible materials, and household equipment. There are, of course, safe and reliable alternatives to gas cylinders, but to be frank, none are available right now. We’ll need some time to foster viable alternatives, and we’ll need to think about them.
Consider the following options for urgent action:
Along with the above-mentioned short-term initiatives, we must also consider the following long-term solutions:
Above all, we must support the concept of ‘Social Capital.’ In Bangladesh, social capital, or people’s solidarity, has proven to be crucial in the face of disasters. The Rohingya and host communities must work together to build good social cohesion. This social capital may be useful in the event of a possible catastrophe. To increase social capital, we must encourage communities to engage in dialogue. Host societies can be included in various services as well. Volunteers and youth from host communities should be given more chances to respond positively.
The Writer Rezaul Karim Chowdhury is the Executive Director Of COAST Foundation