By Gennike Mayers, IFRC

Abdullah (far right in the photo), 24, holds a master’s degree in physics and was teaching physics, chemistry and English at Yadana high school in Rakhine when his family was forced to flee their home on 25 August 2017. Within a few days, they crossed over, like thousands of other families, into south-eastern Bangladesh seeking refuge. Having left their possessions behind, they began a new life in camp with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Today Abdullah is the site manager with the fecal sludge management programme run by the Bangladesh Red Crescent society in one of the camps in Cox’s Bazar. He enjoys what he does, and he is making good use of his skills, but he dreams of returning home. He had high hopes of pursuing a PhD in physics but that dream is growing dim.
“I miss my home and I want to go back if peace is guaranteed but I don’t know when that will happen. We might be here for years or we might go home soon. We are living day by day here with very little in a small space. We are grateful to be alive, but this is not home,” he says.

Abdullah oversees a team of 57 people, all enthused about the key role they play in managing the waste generated in camp 18.

“When the waste comes in we add hydrated lime to correct the pH balance and get rid of bacteria. From the lime stabilization area, we put the sludge to dry under the shed then to the collecting bed where it is mixed with coconut husks. We are converting the sludge into fertilizer which we use to plant trees in the camp to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion,” explains Abdullah.
Large tracts of forested land have been cleared to accommodate the influx of families. This has left the area exposed to waterlogging and landslides especially in the monsoon season. Over 700,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar over the past year, putting immense pressure on local resources. The host communities have absorbed this influx admirably but not without impacts on the environment.

“Living conditions in the camps are very cramped and this increases the risk of diseases,” says Ekram Chowdhury, Project Director of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. “We are helping to reduce the spread of diseases by providing safe water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing. We are also educating the camp residents about good hygiene and very importantly, we are treating the waste in an environmentally friendly way.”

The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and partners have constructed over 350 latrines, over 220 bathing facilities and has reached over 68,000 people with messages on best hygiene practices in Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh, since the start of the latest population movement in August 2017.