By Corinne Ambler
Rajuma Khatun, 25, is exhausted. She has barely eaten or slept since she arrived in Bangladesh from Rakhine State, Myanmar. Sitting in a makeshift shelter under a piece of plastic sheeting, she is surrounded by 17 other members of her family, including her blind father-in-law and eight children.
“The journey took us seven days. We came by foot and by boat and had to pay money. We had trouble crossing the river – there was mud, and no food, no food for the children.”
The family has been in Thangkhali near the border with Myanmar for three days now and there is still no food. The children pick at grains of raw rice from an aid package – the family has no way to cook it.
Today there’s been a glimmer of hope. A Bangladesh Red Crescent mobile medical team has set itself up near the family’s shelter and Rajuma has been able to take several sick relatives for free advice and medication.
“My father-in-law he’s got a stomach ache but he got medicine from the Red Crescent and he’s feeling better. My baby has a fever and skin rash, but he’s also feeling better after I gave him the medicine,” she explains.
Rajuma says her family still has many problems and wants to move somewhere more sheltered.
“I have no food, no water, no shelter and no money to buy anything. We’ve been here for three days now and there’s still no food. This is not a good shelter – I don’t know how I’m going to stay here. We will have to leave today to find somewhere less muddy.”
Dr Mohsin Ahmed, who runs the Bangladesh Red Crescent mobile medical clinic, says food, water and shelter is still the main concern of the people he is seeing, most of whom are women and children.
“Even though we are concentrating on their health they are asking for shelter and food. They have fever, diahorrea, bronchial and respiratory infections, as well as malnutrition.
“They also have psychological trauma. We saw one boy of eight years old with gunshot wounds to his hand and abdomen. The wounds were infected. But more noticeably he had mental trauma, so we asked him to come back today so we can help him with some psychosocial support. But he hasn’t come back yet,” the doctor says.
High numbers of pregnant women and newborns have prompted Dr Mohsin to look for a midwife to join the team, which sees more than 200 people daily. He is also considering adding emergency contraception to the medication stocks, because the risk of sexual violence in the camps is high. Making women even more vulnerable to abuse is lack of electricity and lighting, creating a security risk. Many of the women have also lost their husbands.
As well as distributing water, food, hygiene kits and shelter materials, the Bangladesh and Qatar Red Crescent Societies are building toilets, and IFRC is planning to increase the medical response with additional mobile medical teams and possibly a field hospital and to scale up emergency water and sanitation interventions. The dire situation on the ground means the risk of disease outbreak is high.
Bangladesh Red Crescent and IFRC are in discussions to run child-friendly spaces in partnership with UNICEF and are trying to address the high risk of people trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence, the latter of which has already been seen at mobile medical clinics.
Since August 25, 422,000 Muslims from Rakhine state, Myanmar, have fled across the border to Bangladesh. IFRC is supporting Bangladesh Red Crescent to address the needs of the displaced population, trebling an existing appeal and asking for 12.7 million Swiss francs to help 100,000 people.