Alshalabi oversees the many construction crews that are chopping hills in half, making graded terraces of their slopes and reinforcing them with treated-bamboo retention walls. Native vegetation is then planted on the terraces to help hold the soil together. In recent months, several new camps have been built in this manner, allowing Rohingya families to relocate to safer shelters than those initially built as the crisis unfolded.
“We call it ‘decongesting the camps,'” Alshalabi told DW. “Almost 25,000 people have been relocated into the camp 20 and camp 4 extensions. But the old camps are so densely populated that it doesn’t seem like that many people moved.”
Taken together, the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar are the largest refugee settlement in the world. A report by Human Rights Watch published in August 2018 found the camp to be severely overcrowded, with an average usable space of just 10.7 square meters per person. The report called for Rohingya refugees to be relocated to safer areas outside the camps, but the long-term prospects of hosting the displaced community has become a contentious subject in Bangladeshi politics.
Government officials continue to put pressure on Myanmar to repatriate Rohingya refugees and, in viewing their stay as temporary, have banned the use of permanent construction materials in the camps, compounding existing infrastructure problems.
Yet for the time being, earthmoving projects continue and, in the process, provide much needed employment for camp residents, who are neither permitted to work nor attend schools. Several thousand Rohingya refugees have signed up to participate in the program and are paid roughly $5 (€4.5) for an eight-hour workday, the minimum wage in Bangladesh. Among them is Mohamed Elias, a 35-year-old refugee who has been living in the camps since 2017.
“During the rainy season, it gets very wet here,” Elias said as he worked to level out a terrace. “The soil breaks down easily and the hills collapse, so what we are doing now will protect our homes … it also feels good to work.”
Rohingya females also take part in the infrastructure projects and compose about 30% of the total workforce. Roshida Begum, a mother of four whose husband was killed in Myanmar, said she waters vegetation on the terraces in the morning, carries soil to construction sites in the afternoon, and cooks meals for her children during breaks.
“The salary has helped me buy many things like cooking oil, rice and additional food to supplement the food aid we are getting,” Begum told DW.
“In Myanmar, the security situation was not good for Rohingya, but in Bangladesh they are quite good at keeping us safe,” she continued. “The food rations go up and down, but security is good.”
Read the full story on Deutsche Welle:
In early May, Cyclone Fani was projected to hit Bangladesh with 175 kilometers per hour (108 miles per hour) winds and heavy rains. Humanitarian groups sprung into action, dispatching disaster response teams and distributing supplies to the highly vulnerable Rohingya camps, which host over 910,000 refugees along the nation’s southern coastal area.
Built on hills made of a fine, silt-like soil, the camps near the Cox’s Bazar district are particularly prone to landslides and flash floods, meaning downpours can wreak havoc on the successive waves of Rohingya refugees who have taken shelter there. As Cyclone Fani approached, both refugees and the many agencies that manage the camps watched nervously as the storm veered west, largely missing Cox’s Bazar, but causing extensive damage in India and western Bangladesh.
The episode would serve as a precursor to the potentially catastrophic events that lie ahead. Now, as monsoon season begins in Bangladesh, massive earth-moving projects that have been undertaken over the last year to reinforce camp settlements against the worst weather conditions will be put to the test.
Working side by side with local residents and NGOs, Rohingya refugees have been taking part in a program as paid laborers to build roads, bridges, drainage systems and reinforcement walls. Known as the Site Maintenance Engineering Project (SMEP), the program seeks to address critical infrastructure issues in the camps, most of which were hastily built in 2017 as over 700,000 refugees fled ethnic violence in Myanmar.
“These slopes are not stable, at any moment you could have a landslide,” said Mosa Alshalabi, an engineer with the World Food Programme (WFP), which is coordinating the program with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Read the full story on Deutsche Welle:
Hindu pilgrims bathe in the Ganges river in Varanasi, India, performing a sacred ritual believed to wash away their sins.
Commuters on a bus cross the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, India.
Today, Indians are voting in the 7th and final phase of national elections, which are seen as a referendum on PM Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Results to be announced 23 May.
On the Ganges River, young men on a row boat make their way past the Dashashwamedh Ghat in the city of Varanasi, India, one of Hinduism’s most important sites.
A motorcade for a coalition of opposition parties rolls through Varanasi, India, on the last day rallies can be held ahead of the final voting day in India’s 2019 elections.
Taken at the Old Delhi Spice Market in Delhi, India.
Before casting her ballot, a woman takes a voting slip from a member of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in central Delhi.
Today is the sixth of seven phases in India’s elections, which run from 11 April to 19 May. Results to be announced 23 May.
The development of Eastern Mediterranean gas fields has prompted US officials to strengthen their involvement in the region, as they seek to counter growing Russian influence. My report from Nicosia, Cyprus for Deutsche Welle.