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  • Writer's pictureAhtaram Shin

Water scarcity in Rohingya refugee camps: A daily struggle for survival

Updated: Jun 18

Words and photos by Ro Anuwar Sadek, Ro Mujif Khan and Ro BM Hairu

2024 © Ro Anuwar Sadek

In the Rohingya refugee camp, one of the most critical needs is water. Amidst the oppressive heat of our uncertain circumstances, water sustains our very souls. However, it remains scarce and often unhygienic. Despite its vital importance for all life forms, from microscopic organisms to towering trees, the camp's narrow and crowded confines look like climaxes and valleys, lack of natural water sources like ponds, wells, and freshwater streams. Consequently, Rohingya people depend on alternative sources such as tube wells and water tanks which are provided by the humanitarian agencies to fulfill the basic needs of the refugees are very inadequate, especially in Ramadan.

2024 © Ro Anuwar Sadek

In each sub-block, there are one or two water tube wells and deep tubes that provide two hours of water supply per day in a block. Within each block, there are 300 to 400 families, averaging 4 to 7 members per family. Due to the vital importance of water, people must line for hours to access it during the limited two-hour supply window. Each person can collect only 5-6 pots of water for the next 24 hours after standing several hours in serial, which is inadequate for the mentioned population size for a day. This limited access to water is provided to over 1 million refugees by organizations such as UNHCR, humanitarian agencies, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Particularly in the dusty and high-temperature camps, the situation becomes critical, exacerbating the challenges of survival without sufficient water, leading to increased rates of shortages and different types of skins disease. Many refugees are expressed about their insufficiency of water.

Nosima Khatun, a 72-year-old resident of Camp-2W in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, is a single woman in her family who has been suffering from two major diseases: Hepatitis C and typhoid. Despite chronic disease suffocating, the lack of water supply in her block forces her to stand in line with her water pot under the scorching noon sun.

2024 © Ro Anuwar Sadek
"My shelter is atop a hill, and since there isn't a tube-well nearby, despite feeling discomfort and experiencing pain due to my current poor health, I have to walk to a location where water is distributed to collect our daily usage, which is terrible," she added. "Among all the basic necessities of daily life, water is the most vital. People can survive on half-stomach food, but not without water." Nosima added.

Out of the limited water supply moment, people have face so dire conditions with water if they need to take bath or finish bath water.

Sayed Nur, 23, a Rohingya youth, live Camp-2W mostly engages in different activities to bring a peaceful and well-being of society. He expressed that I had a meeting,

“I needed to have a shower but there is no water in my shelter then I packed some clothes and walked for 40 minutes to take a bath as it is not time of water supply." Sayed said.

Nur Alom, 16, a young student from camp-5. This camp was burnt down on 7 January whereas over 800 tarpaulin shelters other facilities.

2024 © Anuwar Sadek

“Here there is no available water supply and I am not able to take bath. When I go school without shower, my friends say that they are getting bad smell from me. At home, I couldn't sleep due to the body itching in the heat.” Nur said.

As all of their belongings, facility and water access are burnt down, they are still not receiving enough restoration and in fact some people are still unshaded and not provided proper facilities.

"After the fire incident, everything was burnt down. We are facing mostly with fresh water due to burning down the water tap stands, tanks and many other mini water supply pipes in my camp. We have huge water challenges. I found no water to take the showers and wash the necessary things. My family needs to go in other into camp for water." said the refugee man.

2024 © Ro BM Hairu

People are getting the unfiltered water. It impacts people with unseen skin diseases, bacterial infection. A NGO volunteer expressed that "different people are suffering many unknown diseases here in camp. We were healthy in Myanmar where we didn't have hospital. But here is a lot of hospitals and health awareness though why we are suffering many diseases. It is because of unhygienic water and staying dirty without freshness and taking a bath.

In a hundred of well funded humanitarian projects, many people are not meet their necessity and yet they need to use public stream water. Asmot Ullah, 15 years old adolescent who lived in camp-26, Shal Bagaan.

2024 © Ro Anuwar Sadek

"Water is the most sacred in my camp and the inadequate water supply from the tap stands forces me and my family to bring the water from the stream in which several bacteria viruses are mixed." Asmot said.

2024 © Mohammed Yakub

"Many of us sometimes drink the stream water when the tap doesn't provide us enough water then people get various illnesses like diarrhea, headache, fatigue, dry mouth, thirst and kidney failure too." Asmot added.

The number of water tap stands should increase in each block, ensuring water is supplied at least three times per day. In some blocks, NGOs provide water to each shelter via small pipelines. This method should be extended to each camp, preventing quarrels and long waits in harsh temperatures. In the Teknaf camp, where there are freshwater streams, NGOs can create water dams to supply water to the shelters.



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