From ashes to clinic in just two days: fires create new challenges in Cox’s Bazar

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Fire has emerged as a serious threat in the refugee camps on the Bangladesh border with Myanmar, impacting on safety and services.

The 34 crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, housing more than 884,000 Rohingya refugees, have experienced a spate of more than 80 fires throughout 2021, causing widespread damage and in some cases, loss of life.

On Friday 19 March, a massive fire started in one of Save the Children’s health posts in Camp 17.

“The entire facility turned to ash in just one hour,”said Dr Abdullah Al Noman, Senior Program Manager of Save the Children’s Health Program for the Rohingya Response in Bangladesh.

Save the Children health post, which is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, was in one of the busiest areas in the mega camp, home to a large number of families.

Fortunately no patients, staff, or volunteers at the facility were injured, as the blaze occurred on the weekend. Through joint efforts from the Fire Service and Civil Defense (FSCD) and community volunteers the fire was under control within two hours.

“We were very conscious of the fact that despite this setback health care must not stop for these very vulnerable families,” Dr Noman said.

Services to the community were suspended for just two days. An action plan was developed, with tents put up quickly. The adjacent Save the Children Girl Friendly Space was repurposed into a transitional support facility.

Two consultation rooms, one reproductive health room and one pharmacy room have been set up in the Girl Friendly Space. Every day there are at least 35-40 patients who come for health consultations. Maternal Child Health & Nutrition and Infant Young Child Feeding services are continuing, and an outreach and referral service has also recommenced.  

Jarina*, 29, recently visited the transitional health facility with her 8-year-old son.

“I got very worried and sad when the health post got burnt. I thought it would not run its services again. When we learned that it had started again just in two days, it really was a relief for us,” she said.

The Camp 17 Health Post was established in 2017, when the influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar began. With its local NGO partner, Partners in Health and Development (PHD), Save the Children continues to provide support to children and families through its role in the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.

*Name has been changed.