Fire in
Cox's Bazar

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Two fires broke out in the Rohingya refugee camp Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, in January: More than 5000 people lost their belongings and are homeless. The Solidar team is providing emergency aid to rebuild the shelters and is examining what measures are needed to prevent such disasters in the future.

In the early hours of 9 January, the fire in camp 16 spread rapidly. The bamboo and tarpaulin houses were ablaze. 380 shelters and 230 facilities were destroyed, including school centres and water and sanitation facilities, 5000 people were left homeless. Only a few days later, the Rohingyas were hit again: the second fire broke out in the middle of the night on 18 January. The flames swept through Camp 5 in Ukhiya Upazila of Cox Bazar, reducing 30 shelters to rubble and another 140 people lost their roof over their heads. Infrastructure, cooking equipment, personal property, seeds and livestock were destroyed. “The affected people are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid,” says Natasha Kabir, Solidar Suisse monitoring officer in Cox’s Bazar.

Kutupalong – a long misery
Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh is the largest refugee camp in the world. One million Rohingyas, displaced from Myanmar, live in cramped quarters, in huts made of bamboo and tarpaulins, enclosed by fences. All 34 camps are vulnerable to extreme weather events such as landslides, cyclones and monsoon floods. “And fires occur frequently,” says Natasha Kabir. “The reason for this is the building materials used: bamboo, tarpaulins, plastic.  The gas bottles used for cooking always cause fires.” There is no fire brigade in the camps themselves. Moreover, they are located in a hilly area, which makes firefighting difficult. The specific cause of the fires in January has yet to be determined, adds Natasha Kabir. Those affected have been relocated to neighbouring Camp 15 or have been staying with relatives in other parts of the camp. Relief agencies working in Cox’s Bazaar are working to quickly provide food and clothing to families left homeless by the fire, as well as psychological support. Fortunately, no people fell victim to the flames.

Sustainable support after the destruction
After the emergency aid, the Solidar Suisse team in Bangladesh supports the reconstruction work and carries out a needs and damage analysis. “Now there is an urgent need for building materials, blankets, mattresses, hygiene articles, solar lamps and kitchen utensils. Medical supplies and medicines are also needed,” says Natasha Kabir, who is also currently recording the needs of the affected population in future disasters. “For example, a quick analysis showed that 60 per cent of those now surveyed do not know where to go when there is a fire. 40 percent said there are no safe escape routes. This shows us that safety measures are urgently needed.”

There needs to be a functioning surveillance mechanism and a long-term fire safety strategy – for example when building new shelters. To ensure people’s safety, Solidar Suisse is providing fire protection materials. 2000 shelters will be equipped with clay plaster, fire extinguishers and fire blankets. In total, the project will benefit 10,800 people. In addition, the Rohingya community in the target camps will be sensitised to fire safety, training sessions will be held with the local fire brigade to mitigate fire risks, and an awareness campaign will be launched. 50 volunteers will be trained and act as community-based safety committees. Warning systems and evacuation measures will also be improved. And: Each family is to share its most important findings with at least 15 neighbours or relatives in order to prevent such disasters in the future.

Two fires broke out in the Rohingya refugee camp in January. Source: GUK

The flames destroyed the shelter and belongings of over 5000 people. Source: GUK

Fires occur repeatedly in the Kutupalong camp. Source: GUK

One million people live there in Cox's Bazar in a very confined space. Source: GUK

Solidar Suisse supports the people in the camp with emergency aid and sustainable measures to protect people from such disasters. Source: GUK

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