This cannot be real, I keep telling myself. For over two months, the world has been watching as more than 600,000 people have fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar.
Their arrival is heartbreaking; waves of women, children and men move on both sides of the road, carrying their belongings and seeking a safe place to shelter their children from the rain.
Looking into their eyes, one can see the trauma that they have lived, and the misery they feel for where they are now and unsettling anguish for the future.
Our job is to provide immediate basics to the people arriving in Bangladesh as they cross the border. To scale the crisis and also to plan a response, we talk of figures. Some days, there are 35,000 people crossing border, the other days, it is 10,000 or less. These are not just figures or statistics, which tells us the scale of the crisis, but these are human beings with their lives, hopes and any future aspirations now shattered by the harsh reality that meets them with the thick mud under their feet, and an unrelenting rain across their backs.
An area adjacent to the border with Myanmar is a place called, Konarpara. There are now almost seven thousands people, who put up a spontaneous settlement inside this area, which sits beside a river close to the entry point to Bangladesh. Our teams were distributing food parcels to as many people as possible. They would cross the river to reach us, only to return to the patch of land where they have set up temporary shelter. I try put myself mentally in their place: within a short moment, being abruptly stripped of any social standing to become a displaced person… losing fundamental references of personal, familial and communal stability to become uprooted… transforming from self-dependency to become dependent, for nearly everything needed for the daily life.
No one, simply no one, deserves to live like this.
Further on from Konarpara, we drove to Jadimura, an area where we have mobile health teams providing essential health services.
“Today, we have almost 400 people queuing” explains one of our doctors. “The majority of them are women and children. Yet not all of them are sick. Some are simply desperate, and they want someone who will listen to their story,” she continues.
Since the onset of the crisis a month ago, we decided together with the Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society to respond to the urgent needs of stranded families in the border areas. We know that we’ve helped around 100,000 people so far through food assistance, water and sanitation interventions, health care and communication services to reconnect family members.
Yet we also acknowledge that this is a drop in the ocean, if we compare it to the immense needs. More can be done, and it should be done. The situation is overwhelming, and simply beyond the capacity of individual actors or one organisation alone.
For Bangladesh and its people, this crisis is not new. They have been helping for the past three decades. Yet, the sheer scale of this crisis pushes the limits of host community beyond imagination. They share the burden, too.
People here need everything, because they have nothing. They need food, water, shelter, healthcare, but more importantly, they need hope. What do I mean by hope?
As a humanitarian organisation, we can provide short- to mid-term needs, but the harder question that must be answered, is when this suffering will end.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2017.
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