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Rohingya refugee children at risk from monsoon season ‘catastrophe’

A new humanitarian crisis looms in the Rohingya refugee camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, with the region’s annual cyclone and monsoon season predicted to threaten lives and shelters, food and water supplies.

More than 668,000 Rohingya have fled across the Myanmar border since August, swelling numbers in the camps strung along the border to more than 800,000.

“As we get closer to the cyclone and monsoon seasons, what is already a dire humanitarian situation risks becoming a catastrophe,” said Oliver White, senior policy adviser for forced migration at Unicef Australia. “Hundreds of thousands of children are already living in horrific conditions, and they will face an even greater risk of disease, flooding, landslides and further displacement.”

The first of Bangladesh’s two cyclone seasons begins in March, while the monsoon rains typically start in June. Last May, Cyclone Mora destroyed 20,000 shelters in the Rohingya refugee camps, as well as damaging wells, toilets and roads.

White warned that dirty water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions could lead to outbreaks of cholera and hepatitis E, a deadly disease for pregnant women and their babies, while standing water attracted malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

“Keeping children safe from disease must be an absolute priority,” he said.

Heavy rain will threaten the makeshift shelters where Rohingya families are living. Most of the new campsites have been built on and around the hillsides of a former wildlife reserve.

Those shelters built in the valleys face the threat of flooding, while those higher up, carved into hills stripped of the vegetation that formerly held them together, are at risk of landslide. Water supplies face inundation or destruction, and people could be cut off from food, water and services.

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