Aid workers warn of 'acute crisis' in Bangladesh refugee camps devastated by Cyclone Mora

Rohingya Muslims, who fled persecution in Myanmar, face a new challenge as Cyclone Mora flattens homes at refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi residents walking with their belongings towards a safer area near the coastal line at the Cox's Bazar district in the Chittagong, on May 30, 2017.
Bangladeshi residents walking with their belongings towards a safer area near the coastal line at the Cox's Bazar district in the Chittagong, on May 30, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AFP) - Aid workers warned on Wednesday (May 31) of an "acute crisis" in Bangladesh after a cyclone 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 South-east coast after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

Cyclone Mora battered the coastal area of Cox's Bazar on Tuesday (May 30), killing six people, destroying 20,000 homes and forcing the evacuation of 600,000 residents.

India's navy said it had pulled 27 Bangladeshis from the water in the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday during search-and-rescue operations following the cyclone.

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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 destroyed or damaged at least 16,010 homes in the camps and also seriously damaged clinics run by aid agencies for the Rohingya and the local community.

Aid workers scrambled to get food to the camps, which house around 300,000 Rohingya, many of whom 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."

Abdul Matin, who lives in a camp for unregistered Rohingya refugees, told AFP many had crowded into schools and mosques for the night, while others were forced to sleep in the open.

Haji Abdus Salam, who lives in Nayapara camp with his 13 children, two wives and 10 grand-children said the family had not eaten since Tuesday.

Outside the camps, Bangladeshi authorities say 20,000 homes were destroyed and another 39,000 damaged by the cyclone, which brought winds of up to 135km per hour.

The charity Save the Children said it was particularly concerned about the impact on minors.

"Making matters worse, there is also an increased risk of disease, especially for those living in temporary or basic housing and with poor water and sanitation facilities," said country director Mark Pierce.

Bangladesh had earlier evacuated nearly 600,000 people from vulnerable areas and many low-lying villages were inundated by a storm surge reaching 1.3 metres. Most have since returned to their homes.

It was not immediately clear how the 27 rescued on Wednesday came to be in the sea, although some reports said they may have been swept from the shore.

The Fishing Boat Association said an estimated 200 fishermen had failed to return to port. They were thought to be stranded or to have anchored on far-flung islands.

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.