“In July, torrential rain caused several landslides in different camps. When faced with something similar happening in our camp, we moved people in the community from the vulnerable areas to temporary communal safe shelters. These types of lifesaving activities amazed me most.”
Nasima, a 35-year-old Rohingya woman, shared her experiences of working in the recent monsoon response for her community in Camp 20, a refugee camp for the Rohingyas in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar. “I never thought that I would ever carry out such brave work in adverse weather, even a couple of years back. I did not have such courage then. It was only after I underwent training and became a volunteer of the Disaster Management Unit (DMU) in 2018 that I developed the courage to do this.”
From July to August this year, Nasima directly assisted 20 families during pre- and post-monsoon response. She also referred 30 families who needed support to other service-providing agencies in the camp.
“During any emergency like flood, cyclone or fire incidents, we have to work very hard. In July, when it rained a lot, I checked every day for any damage, landslide, or flood. I reported back immediately to Site Management Support (SMS) volunteers whenever I noticed anything.”
At least 200 families were affected by the flash flood in Camp 19 in July. DMU volunteers immediately relocated the affected families to safe places. They provided direct support in landslide and flood-affected shelters. They also assisted in emergency soil removal and rescue and moved the affected population to safe communal shelters.
“I never thought that I would ever carry out such brave work in adverse weather, even a couple of years back. I did not have such courage then. It was only after I underwent training and became a volunteer of the Disaster Management Unit (DMU) in 2018 that I developed the courage to do this.”
he IOM Site Management Site Development (SMSD) Programme scaled up its emergency response activities to address the damages caused by the heavy rain. The volunteers played a very important role in ensuring better emergency response during the monsoon season.
“Previously, I was scared of cyclones, floods, landslides and other natural disasters. I used to keep myself and my family members from going out when it rained or when there are risks of floods or landslides. But now, I come out from my house not only to save my kids and belongings but also to save my neighbors and members of the community who fall into distress due to the calamity,” Nasima said confidently.
As a first responder, Nasima received trainings on cyclone preparedness, fire safety and response, search and rescue, first aid, and other disaster risks reduction-related trainings. The trainings she received helped her build her capacity and strengthened her understanding of dealing with emergencies.
“Before undergoing the training, I had little understanding about any natural calamity and how we should respond to it. Now, I am more confident about my role. I am capable to serve my community and I want to continue my work. Many people in my community know me already through my role. They come to me with the hope that their problems will be heard and solved. I feel very happy and proud to be able to help them.”
Nasima is among of the 761 DMU volunteers composed of 208 women and 553 men. They are based in their respective camps which are among the 10 IOM-managed camps in Cox’s Bazar, namely Camps 9, 15, 18, 19, 20, 20 Extension, 22, 23, 24, and 25. People from her community were previously not aware of her role as a volunteer. However, they are motivated when they see her perform her role and approach her whenever there is any need.
The volunteers are among the first responders who arrive immediately after an emergency and provide initial support to the affected community until professional emergency responders arrive. They also disseminate messages on cyclone awareness and early warnings, landslide risks, fire safety, and monsoon awareness in the community during normal times.
In 2018, IOM SMSD, coordinating with the SMSD Sector, other Site Management (SM) partners, American Red Cross and the national Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), established the community-based groups called ‘Safety Volunteers’. These volunteer groups subsequently expanded and became DMU in 2019.
Jeno Beno, IOM SMSD’s Area Operations Coordinator for Teknaf said, “The DMU volunteers working together with the IOM SMS teams are a crucial part of our operations both in emergency preparedness and response activities. Thanks to their commitment, their readiness to learn and to be trained.” Beno added, “Rescuing distressed people after landslide incidents, putting fires off, or saving people affected by the flood are part of their response activities. You have to be strong and committed to carry out these responsibilities.”
Cox's Bazar is one of the most disaster-affected districts of Bangladesh. It is exposed to tropical cyclones and associated storm surges, flash floods and landslides. The Rohingya refugee camps both in Kutupalong-Balukhali Extension (KBE) and Teknaf are under heightened risks due to the environmental degradation and further heightened by the congested population of the camps.
The DMU activities in IOM-managed Rohingya camps are now carried out with the support of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
The story was written by Tarek Mahmud, National Communication Officer of IOM Cox’s Bazar. Tel: +880 1752 380 240; email: email@example.com.