Rohingya refugees have witnessed landslides at the camps in Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas of Cox's Bazar amid heavy showers and strong winds forcing the authorities to move at least 100 families to safety yesterday.
More than 100 shanties on hill slopes have been damaged while two refugees have suffered injuries since Saturday night. There is no report of casualty yet.
Local authorities and international aid agencies have long been warning about a looming natural disaster during the monsoon in the densely populated camps.
The International Organisation for Migration recently conducted a study and said that when the monsoon properly hits, an estimated 120,000 people will be at grave risk from flooding and landslides.
Besides, a joint study carried out by UNHCR, IOM and Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre presented in February showed that around 2,00,000 Rohingyas are at risk of landslides and flash floods in the monsoon.
Over 700,000 Rohingyas, who crossed over into the coastal district fleeing persecution in Myanmar since August, are dwelling in shacks, made of thin bamboo and plastic sheets and too weak to stand heavy rains and storms.
Rohingya leaders told AFP that the rains have already devastated some parts of the camps and turned some dirt roads into quagmires, hindering the movement of refugees and relief materials.
"It's just the beginning and the entire monsoon season is ahead of us. Some people have been relocated but the majority are still living under risk," said Mohammad Mohibullah, a community leader.
Caroline Gluck, spokesperson of UNHCR, thinks it's a big wake up call for everyone involved in the Rohingya humanitarian response.
“We are expecting more heavy rains and winds in the coming days. This is only the beginning -- and already we have seen many incidents of landslides, and areas of flooding,” she told The Daily Star.
She also told AFP, "Some areas like the football field areas are flooded. Some houses have been inundated with water. There have been a few landslides. The conditions are bad."
Agencies estimate that 41,000 people are at high risk of landslides, but so far only 14,000 of them have been relocated to safer places. In total, an estimated 200,000 people could be at high risk of landslides and floods across all the settlements.
“It is a huge concern for us. Rohingya refugees are living in very congested and precarious locations. Tens of thousands still need to be relocated to safer places. UNHCR continues to look to the Government of Bangladesh and its emergency services to help evacuate refugees in hilly areas prone to landslides and floods in order to save lives," Gluck told this correspondent.
Mohammad Abul Kalam, relief and refugee repatriation commissioner (RRRC) of the disaster management ministry, said they were yet to get the full picture.
“Two were injured and they were sent to hospital for treatment. Already 100 families have been relocated to safer places. If rains continue, the situation might aggravate. We are alert,” he said.
Bangladesh Meteorological Department recorded 107mm rain in Cox's Bazar yesterday and heavy rains will continue in the coastal district for few more days, meteorologist Md Arif Hossain told this correspondent.
The weather bulletin of the Met office said due to the monsoon depression over Swandip and adjoining northeast Bay, deep convection is continuing over North Bay and adjoining coastal area of Bangladesh.
The website of the department said maritime ports of Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Mongla and Payra have been advised to keep hoisted local cautionary signal No 3. All fishing boats and trawlers in the North Bay have been advised to take shelter and stay there until further notice.
“We are ready. We have already alerted our UNOs and emergency response teams,” Kamal Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, told The Daily Star.
“We have already formed a five-member emergency control room and they have started their work.”