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Rohingya Crisis: Flood and Cyclone Preparedness

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

We have all been appalled by the terrible violence and ethnic cleansing that have taken place in Burma’s Rakhine State. Nearly a million Rohingya have now fled to Bangladesh from Burma. I visited the camps where most of them are living last year and witnessed for myself the precarious conditions there.

The annual monsoon and cyclone season begins imminently, and heavy rainfall is expected over the coming months. The Rohingya refugee camps are extremely vulnerable; the latest humanitarian response plan estimates that up to 200,000 Rohingya are living in areas at risk of flooding and collapse with the rainy season. I would like to assure the House that the UK Government are doing everything they can to press for and support preparedness.

We have been struck by the magnitude of the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh in providing refuge for so many people in desperate need. It has an excellent track record in disaster preparedness and protecting the vulnerable from the impacts of floods and cyclones. It is important that such preparedness is extended to Rohingya people currently hosted in Bangladesh. We are encouraging Bangladesh to take as many measures to save lives as possible, such as allocating additional land that is at lower risk of flooding and landslides, reducing density in the existing camps and having evacuation plans in place including to safe places such as cyclone shelters.

We and Bangladesh’s other friends are committed to supporting them with this. UK Government Ministers and officials have been in close contact with their Government of Bangladesh counterparts on this issue. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary and I wrote jointly to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 20 March, urging the government of Bangladesh to fully harness their expertise in this area and reaffirming our strong support.

I am proud of the role the UK is playing in response to the Rohingya crisis. The UK is a leading donor to the humanitarian effort in Bangladesh. We have committed an additional £59 million since last August, including matching £5 million of public donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal. We will remain a leading donor going forward. As part of our response, we are taking a wide range of measures to improve flood and cyclone preparedness, including:

Water, sanitation and hygiene—DFID is working with a range of agencies to ensure that up to 250,000 people continue to have access to safe drinking water throughout the rainy season, and that latrines are constructed, maintained and relocated if necessary. More than 5,000 new latrines are being constructed and will be strategically placed throughout the camps on safe ground, and more than 6,700 unsafe latrines will be decommissioned.

Health—UK-supported cholera, measles and diphtheria vaccination campaigns will provide protection against some of the most common diseases in the camps, and healthcare workers are being trained and provided with technical support to ensure better coverage is in place ahead of the rainy season. Some 791,000 children under the age of seven will have been vaccinated by the end of March.

Infrastructure and access—UN agencies, with UK support, have started mitigation works, including site improvements. Given the topography and recent deforestation of the land, this will not be sufficient to guard against all landslide risk or prevent flooding everywhere in the camps. The focus is on ensuring sustained access for the delivery of aid throughout the rainy season by improving drainage, maintaining access roads, and reinforcing embankments and walkways.

Shelter improvements—the UK is working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to ensure that the most at-risk households—more than 158,000 people—are provided with reinforced shelter materials and sandbags, to protect from high winds and flood water.

Pre-positioning of relief supplies—DFID made use of contingency stockpiles in the early stages of this humanitarian response. DFID has successfully supported previous cyclone responses in Bangladesh using prepositioned supplies and maintains humanitarian stockpiles with ready access to Bangladesh in both India and Dubai.

Rohingya women and children are also vulnerable to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. The UK is leading the way in supporting a range of organisations providing specialised help to survivors of sexual violence in Bangladesh. This includes 19 women’s centres offering a safe space, psycho-social support and activities to women and girls, 30 Child Friendly Spaces supporting children with protective services and psychological support, case management for nearly 2,200 survivors of sexual violence and 13 sexual and reproductive health clinics.