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The Rohingya humanitarian crisis is in its fifth year running. UN-led humanitarian agencies, in coordination with host Bangladeshi authorities, have been continuously working on various fronts since the crisis started in 2017 – to alleviate suffering of the refugees and to ensure a better living in the camps. Over the years, despite many challenges, things have improved a lot comparing to the years back. Though it is difficult to measure how resilient they have been, based on my working experience with them, some observations have been articulated here.

In disaster management, there are normally two phases of response; emergency assistance to save lives in the first place and building resilience afterwards. In the Rohingya crisis, the years 2017 to 2019 were basically emergency period. At that time, humanitarian agencies mostly focused on giving life-saving assistance. In the following years, building resilience through different coordinated programming has been one of the important priorities of the agencies.

Growing life expectancy

People struggle to survive, no matter where they live, planning for the future and trying to live better. As refugees continue to live in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, there are marriages happening, families extending, children being born, people getting older, small businesses in the camps expanding and a kind of life expectancy within the camps growing.

Every human being likes to live independently and needs social and economic engagements to live with. Refugees are no exception. In the camps, they are getting engaged with whatever little opportunities they find. Some have set up little shops and some are working as volunteers and day labourers. There are NGO-led training centers where various skills are developed like tailoring, handicraft, snack-making, cooking, solar panel and gas burner repairs, etc. There is no place available for farming, yet with support from NGOs, many seasonal vegetables are cultivated on the roofs of their makeshift huts.

Better living conditions

The areas where camps are now located were basically hilly forests. There was nothing there for refugees to live on. But in the last four years, there have been many developments. Water supply systems, sanitation facilities, drainage systems, roads and pathways, bridges and culverts, etc. have been constructed. The aid and services like food assistance, health care, LPG and non-food items (NFI) are now provided in a better way.

Rohingya camp areas are prone to natural disasters like flash-flooding, landslide, fire, tropical cyclone, torrential rain, extreme temperature, outbreak of disease and climate adversities. Last year, some of these disasters devastated their lives. To mitigate the risks of such natural hazards and to make the camps more livable, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a dedicated programme being implemented through various activities. Besides, risk communication systems and fire control units are set up.

Back in 2017, Rohingyas were criticised for clearing the forests in Ukhia and Teknaf. At that time, the areas were turned into deserts because of cutting trees indiscriminately for shelter and firewood. But with coordinated efforts by the humanitarian organisations, in an effort to building back better, thousands of trees are planted in and around the camps and once-desert has gone green now. It has made the camps more livable. It is a remarkable climate action either that has become a story worth being told to the world.

No society can make sustainable progress and achieve resilience nowadays if their women are left behind

Skilled humanitarian community

Managing large scale humanitarian disaster like the Rohingya crisis requires trained, skilled and experienced humanitarian professionals. There have been a number of challenges for aid workers and organisations at the beginning of the crisis. Understanding Rohingya dialect and lack of trained and experienced humanitarian workers were some of them. But over the years, challenges have been minimised and a local trained professional humanitarian community has grown up, making it easier for organisations to manage the crisis efficiently and to give better services to the affected people.

Women empowerment

No society can make sustainable progress and achieve resilience nowadays if their women are left behind. Rohingya people are mostly uneducated village people who were deprived of basic rights for decades in Myanmar. Due to being a highly patriarchal society, gender inequality and gender based violence (GBV) were and still are so pervasive among them. Women education and women working out of home were once unthinkable.

Though there is a lot to achieve in terms of women empowerment and reducing gender based violence, things have pretty much improved. As there are organisations working to prevent and respond to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), many women’s capacity to participate in social affairs has been increased. They are speaking up and coming out to contribute to their community. Many women are nowadays seen working as community leaders, volunteers, teachers, and also seen tailoring at home, weaving fishing nets, making handicrafts, running shops and selling vegetables.

Language barriers minimised

Rohingyas were illiterate village people and their language is one of the marginalised languages in the world. Their skills to fully participate and effectively communicate in modern society were once very poor. As a result, communicating with them effectively was a big challenge for the aid workers. But to bridge the gap, there are NGOs working for Rohingya language and providing language support to the aid workers for effective communication.

At the beginning, refugees had no idea of services like child protection, gender based violence (GBV), mental health, community services and so on. But being in touch with many development projects and aid workers, now they have been much aware of such services and they have also been conversant with Bangla and Chittagonian language.

While sustainable solution to their crisis is the true way to make them resilient, it seems not to be happening very soon. Despite all these positive developments, there are still challenges to overcome like protecting children as COVID-19 has caused unrecoverable damages to children’s lives. Education is the most sustainable way to peace, resilience and hope, and to protection from abuse, to light from darkness.

* Parvez Uddin Chowdhury is a humanitarian worker and independent researcher. He can be reached at [email protected]

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