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Refugees face ‘acute crisis’ in cyclone-hit Bangladesh

Aid workers warned Wednesday of an “acute crisis” in Bangladesh after a cyclone damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and devastated camps housing Rohingya refugees, leaving many without food or shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in the overcrowded camps on the southeast coast after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

Cyclone Mora battered the coastal area of Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday, killing six people, damaging or destroying at least 17,000 homes and forcing the evacuation of 600,000 residents.

Some of the worst damage was at the camps housing the 300,000 Rohingya, whose numbers swelled last year following a military crackdown on the stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar.

“There is an acute crisis of food, shelter, health services, water and sanitation facilities in the makeshift settlements following the storm,” said Sanjukta Sahany, local head of the International Organisation for Migration which coordinates relief in some of the camps.

“The drainage and toilet system have been fully broken,” she told AFP.

Sahany said the storm had also seriously damaged clinics run by aid agencies for the mainly Muslim Rohingya and the local community.

Aid workers scrambled to get food to the camps, which house around 300,000 Rohingya. Many were observing the Ramadan fast when the cyclone struck.

The refugees have said they were given no official warning of the storm and were unable to salvage stockpiles of food for the breaking of the fast when it hit.

“No charities came to offer food. Some people shared a small piece of bread between a group of four,” community leader Mohammad Rafique Habib told AFP.

“Pregnant women, children and the elderly are suffering most.”

At least 16,010 homes in the camps were destroyed or damaged by the cyclone, Sahany said.

That was in addition to the 17,000 homes of local residents that Bangladesh authorities said were damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, which brought winds of up to 135 kilometres (84 miles) per hour.

“In most cases, the plastic and straw roofs were fully blown away. But already the sun has appeared and they have started repair work,” Sahany said of the Rohingya camps.

Abdul Matin, who lives in a camp for unregistered Rohingya refugees, told AFP many had crowded into schools and mosques for the night.

“But there wasn’t space for everyone. Some people had to sleep under the open sky in their broken huts,” he said.

Bangladesh said it was sending ships to assist the tens of thousands of people affected by Cyclone Mora.

Authorities had earlier evacuated nearly 600,000 people from vulnerable areas and many low-lying villages were inundated by a storm surge reaching four feet (1.3 metres).

Cyclone Mora comes after heavy rains in Sri Lanka caused the worst flooding the island has seen in well over a decade, killing more than 200 people.

South Asia is frequently hit by flooding in the summer with the arrival of the annual monsoon rains.

–AFP