United Nations Under-Secretary General Dr Natalia Kanem has pleaded for increased support for the Rohingyas, who are facing a major challenge in the upcoming monsoon season when much of the refugee camps in Bangladesh could be flooded and see landslides.
“We expect the international community to step up and join to increase the monetary contribution,” she said at a press conference at a city hotel today following a four-day visit to Bangladesh, including in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
She appreciated the solidarity that Bangladesh and host community demonstrated by sheltering some 700,000 Rohingyas, who fled military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August last year and joined some 300,000 others who fled in the earlier waves of violence.
The UN in a joint response plan in March appealed for $950 million for humanitarian assistance of the some 1 million Rohingyas and 300,000 locals affected by the refugee influx.
Only 17 percent of the money has so far been received, said Dr Kanem, also executive director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
She said the weather-related crisis could aggravate the situations and abrupt the UN ability to “safeguard the lives of women and girls who already have been affected by an unprecedented amount of violence.”
Natalia Kanem said she sat with the Rohingya women who recounted their journey and the harrowing nature of violence they have undergone.
“They have found the refuge across the border here. Now the very basic needs of survival – food, appropriate shelter, and the ability to feel safe and protected – are barely within reach,” she told reporters.
“It threatens our ability to feed over 855,000 on a daily basis as UNFPA. We have at least 60 newborn babies every day. We have at least scores of mothers who are pregnant, who must receive appropriate nutrition, appropriate antenatal care and very importantly, the midwives,” the UN high official said.
The prepositioning of the women before the disaster is so urgent, Kanem said, adding: “We need to plan for this in this type of circumstances. We would like their preparations to be made.”
Apart from basic needs, she said there are women and girls who are pleading for protection for the safe space they find in the women-friendly spaces, where the UNFPA provides mental health support and counselling when they are in a grief.
However, there are only 19 such spaces that are heavily overstretched, she noted.
Natalia said the refugee women should be able to have freedom of mobility within the camp without fear for their safety. UNFPA is providing flash lights so that they may go back and forth to look after them after hours when the police protection and other forms of physical protection are not available.
“We will need to have much more solar and other types of sustainable lighting in the camps in order for the women to move about safely.”
Asked on holding the perpetrators accountable, Dr Kanem said it was heartbreaking to think that human being can be so cruel to each other even in the time of conflict.
Women and girls bear the brunt not only of displacement but also sexual and gender-based violence, she added.
“As UN, we are calling for the establishment of effective accountability mechanisms for any human rights violator,” she said.
It also includes any conflict-related sexual violence, she said and added that they support the recording of testimonies and gathering of the data required for ensuring accountability.