Severe flooding hits Bangladesh in midst of coronavirus crisis

Published: 17th July 2020

Landslide fears as heavy rains hit Cox’s Bazar - Oxfam spokespeople available

Heavy rains have swollen river basins in north Bangladesh, leading to severe flooding, submerging towns and destroying homes and crops in a region already suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oxfam said today.

The floods - which are predicted to peak this weekend (18 and 19 July) - have already claimed eight lives and affected 2.2 million people, only two months after the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, the strongest storm in a decade. Heavy monsoon rains have also caused damage and are limiting the movement of vulnerable people in the over-crowded Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

Vincent Koch, Humanitarian Director, Oxfam in Bangladesh said: “Bangladesh is already facing multiple crises with Covid-19 and its economic fallout, making these floods even more deadly.”

“People in low-lying areas are at risk of water-borne illnesses caused by the floods which in turn makes them more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. These communities have already lost savings or vital remittances because of lockdown and have no support to fall back on.

Refugees in the camps have described a ‘crisis for dry space’, with wet mud encroaching into shelters leaving no dry areas to sleep. 

Vincent Koch, Humanitarian Director
Oxfam in Bangladesh

The floods began in late June and the situation has deteriorated in the last week as major rivers have risen above danger levels.

The Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, home to almost a million Rohingya refugees, have been spared the worst of the flooding, but heavy monsoon rains have damaged shelters and increased the possibility of landslides as the camps are built on steep hillsides.  

Koch said: “Refugees in the camps have described a ‘crisis for dry space’, with wet mud encroaching into shelters leaving no dry areas to sleep.  The bamboo bridges and pathways that criss-cross the camps have become more precarious making it more difficult for the elderly and people with disabilities to get around.”

People living on Chars, or river islands, are extremely vulnerable during cyclone and monsoon season, as crops are washed away and livelihoods damaged.  Jahanara told Oxfam she had moved with her family to an island in the Meghna River in Chandpur district earlier this month after the previous island was eroded by the flood water.  But with water levels now steadily rising, Jahanara worries her new shelter will wash away.

Jahanara said: “My husband is a fisherman; he went to the river yesterday hoping to get some fish to sell. But the river has water and water—there is no fish. I do not know how we will survive. There is no work, and no food in our house.”

In communities in the north affected by the floods, Oxfam and its partners are preparing to provide clean water and sanitation services and shelter. In the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, Oxfam continues to provide water and sanitation and repair rain-damaged infrastructure.

Koch said: “Increases in rainfall, building on the rivers and a changing climate have increased the frequency of floods in South Asia over the last 20 years. Extreme weather events now are happening multiple times a year, giving communities no time to recover before the next flood. Char and flood-vulnerable communities need information, both about heavy rain forecasts and upcoming flooding. But this information is often inaccessible to the most marginalized and vulnerable communities.”

Notes to editors

  • In Cox’s Bazar, Oxfam is helping contain coronavirus by providing water and sanitation and increasing hygiene awareness to 173,000 people in the Rohingya refugee camps and 9,000 people in the surrounding community.
  • To help communities better prepare for flooding, Oxfam and its partners are working to improve early warning systems through facilitating the dissemination of information about floods from water infrastructure managers and from disaster risk reduction agencies.

Contact information

Nipuna Kumbalathara in Colombo, Sri Lanka |  | +94 (0) 71 4873333

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