Guljar talks to ShelterBox – a Rohingya family’s dramatic story

Guljar talks to ShelterBox – a Rohingya family’s scramble over mountains and rivers to reach a small plot of safety. Bamboo and black plastic, extreme heat and rain. ‘A ticking time bomb for disease.’

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Jimmy Griffith, a ShelterBox response volunteer from New Zealand, talks through a translator to Guljar and her family about the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar. It has been an arduous journey, carrying a baby, and just boiled rice for food. They have fled violence, but are far from secure. 

Guljar is forty years old. A widow for five years, she is bringing up her two daughters aged 15 & 12, and her son aged 9, alone. Her 15 year old daughter has a baby, just 18 months old.

In Myanmar they had a home and a small farm with a few animals. Life was good for them. Until they became increasingly concerned for their own safety, and felt they should leave.

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Guljar is talking to ShelterBox’s Jimmy Griffith, in the overcramped mud bowl that is now her family’s sanctuary in Bangladesh. She and her family are among half a million Rohingya who have fled in fear across the border to Bangladesh. ShelterBox,  experts in emergency shelter and international disaster relief, are working to help what has been described as a ‘monumental’ influx of desperate and exhausted people.

Guljar tells Jimmy, ‘We decided to leave. At midnight we cooked up all the rice we had along with some pickle. We left in the early hours of the morning under the cover of darkness.’

‘We headed for the mountains. We couldn’t take the roads as we knew this could lead to trouble.’ Guljar explained that travelling in large groups of 20,000 to 30,000 gave them safety in numbers. ‘If you were in a small group you would probably be attacked.’

It took them three days of trudging, carrying a small child, for this family of five to scale the mountain. This is open wild country, and there were no tracks to follow. Guljar notes the kindness of strangers. ‘As we were running out of food, other people supported us if they could, and as we passed houses some of these people would help as well. We found a place in the river where we could cross that wasn’t too deep.’

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After spending days and nights out in the open they arrived at one of the Bangladesh camps that have sprung up in the Cox’s Bazar region. Guljar, her girls, son and grand-daughter were given a small 3m by 5m plot of land by the Bangladesh government. They were also given flimsy black plastic sheeting, bamboo poles and rope so they could make a shelter.

‘We are so grateful for everything we are given. Unfortunately there are no trees around which makes it very hot under the black plastic (it can be 33-36 degrees in the sun). Also when it rains they leak.’

Most of these plots are on terraces above rice paddy fields. When it rains the ground turns to ankle-deep mud, so families stay inside their shelters, cramped and very hot. Everyone is worried because the cyclone season is coming soon, which threatens both the flimsy shelters and the terraces they are pitched on.

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ShelterBox is working with a cluster of other non-governmental organisations on a co-ordinated aid programme, but the numbers needing help are challenging, and at times overwhelming. We have an experienced team in Cox’s Bazar working hard with local Rotary contacts and partners to help as many vulnerable families as possible. These families left their homes with nothing and we know that they desperately need shelter, lighting, and water.

Tarpaulins and ropes will help shelter families from the heavy rain and harsh sun, blankets will bring comfort and warmth at night, solar lights will help families feel a little safer in the dark, and water carriers will help keep water clean. ShelterBox has just signed its first agreement to import sufficient of these to support 4,000 Rohingya households.

Jimmy Griffith says, ‘Our tarpaulins and fixings are heavy-duty, and have been used in the worst weather conditions in all climates. But our resources and manpower are stretched, with ShelterBox responses continuing elsewhere in Bangladesh after vast floods, in the Caribbean after the hurricanes, and in Africa, Syria and Iraq with continuing conflict. So I’m grateful to all our generous supporters worldwide.’

‘As I look around and I see thousands of shelters everywhere – just imagine, if I was to take my home town of Nelson in New Zealand, just 60,000 people, and times it by ten, and just put everybody together in a small space with no toilets or running water. Also add in extreme heat and rain which causes more hardship. Now you have a ticking time bomb for disease. Now you can imagine some of the challenges we face in the Rohingya camps.’

You can help families like Guljar’s and other displaced by conflict and disaster by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

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Life on the edge – ShelterBox team reports from Bangladesh’s Rohingya border camps

Over half a million Rohingya people face new perils in the makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh as the coming cyclone season threatens to wash away the flimsy plastic shelters. 

Imagine the entire population of a city the size of the Gold Coast crammed into a little over three square miles. This is the result of over half a million Rohingya people – more than half of them children, thousands separated from their parents – arriving in Bangladesh by foot or by river crossing from Myanmar.

More than 500,000 Rohingya are now settling in makeshift and spontaneous camps in the Cox’s Bazar area. Poignantly, from these vantage points many of them are now able to see their former home villages burning in the distance across the border.

ShelterBox response volunteer from Gloucestershire UK, Liz Odell, says, Conditions are dire, with most people living in small shelters made of flimsy black plastic sheeting and bamboo poles. There is little space between the shelters, and the paths between them are a congealing soup of oozing mud. Most of the inhabitants have no possessions and only the clothes that they were wearing when they fled from their villages in Rakhine state. Many are traumatised by their experiences and the loss of loved ones.

Liz also worries that the sites they are using, on terraces high above rice paddy fields, will be prone to collapse as the cyclone season fast approaches. Liz says, Much of the area around the camps is rice paddies – they are under water so the Rohingyas are forced to build their shelters on the precipitous slopes of the surrounding hills. Once the cyclone season arrives, these terraces are likely to collapse.’

ShelterBox, an international disaster relief agency specialising in emergency shelter for families displaced by conflict and natural disasters, is making arrangements to bring in aid including portable solar lighting, which has helped reduce gender-based violence in refugee camps worldwide. Tools and tarps will help with waterproof shelter construction, and to bring basic comfort to families without any possessions ShelterBox is also aiming to bring in blankets. ShelterBox teams had arrived in Bangladesh in response to the worst flooding for decades, but now find themselves responding to a human flood as well.

Liz and her colleague Jimmy Griffith from Nelson, New Zealand have visited the two largest camps, Kutupalong and Balukhali. Here teams of aid workers are working round the clock to install water tanks, wells, latrines, medical facilities (including a 95-bed field hospital) and child friendly spaces.

But Liz says it is a race against time. ‘The influx has been so monumental and so fast that the facilities become overwhelmed as fast as they are built. One water and sanitation health worker told us that as fast as they dig latrines, they are overflowing and they don’t yet have a system for disposing of the faecal sludge. Imagine the smell. On a positive note, the weather has been dry the last few days and the knee-deep mud is beginning to dry up. The World Health Organisation are in a race against time to administer 300,000 cholera vaccinations before the inevitable outbreak of the disease.’

Mohammed, Hannah and Nurusaffa’s story

Liz and Jimmy visited a camp at Unchiprang, a spontaneous settlement which houses a relatively few 28,000 people, yet the sea of black plastic shelters still stretches as far as the eye can see. Liz says ‘We met some of the survivors who settled here a couple of weeks ago, and asked them to tell us a little about themselves.’

Shakier Mohammed and his wife Hanna are sharing a small shelter with his sister, Nurusaffa, and her two sons aged 8 and 12 years. Hanna is 5 months pregnant. Nurusaffa’s husband was killed, and their house was set on fire before she managed to flee with her two sons. It took them three hours on foot to reach the border in temperatures of 36 degrees centigrade, and then another 2½ hours by boat to cross the River Naf which forms the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. I asked her what possessions she brought with her and she said ‘nothing’. I asked what she needed and she said ‘food, blankets, water carrier.’

Most of the Rohingya want to return home but at this time, that seems a remote possibility.’

‘There was a bright spot in the middle of the sea of mud and black plastic: a child friendly space. This was an airy, open-sided shelter with colourful floor mats, balloons and decorations. There was space for up to 200 children with a toy corner, an art corner, a library and areas for music and adolescents. The children have dedicated latrines, and are fed water and biscuits while they are there. The children were sat in a square, singing songs. It was gut wrenchingly poignant – the children’s ability to have fun despite all they have been through, given the right support and surroundings.’

‘ShelterBox can’t help everyone. We are a small cog in a large wheel here, but we can make a difference to the lives of at least 4,000 families.’

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ShelterBox working closely with Rotary in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma

Irma caused devastation on the British Virgin Islands (image courtesy VI Free Press)

Hurricane Irma made landfall on northeast Caribbean islands during the early hours of 6 September, affecting Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, St Barthélemy, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, US Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos. Two million people were exposed to winds in excess of 120 km/h.

Livelihoods, housing and infrastructure in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos have been severely affected. 70%-90% of infrastructure has been destroyed on Anguila and Barbuda. 1,600 Barbudans were evacuated to Antigua. 34,000 people have been displaced in Dominican Republic and Haiti alone.

As our Response Teams in the Caribbean monitor the incoming Hurricane Maria and Tropical Storm Lee, here’s an update of our activities so far:

Antigua and St Kitts and Nevis: 500 ShelterKits have been shipped from Panama with the Red Cross National Societies. 300 ShelterKits are now in Antigua and the remaining 200 have arrived in St Kitts and Nevis. A team is in Antigua and will begin to oversee assessments and form distribution and monitoring plans, once the current storms have  tracked through. The team is in close liaison with Rotarians from District 7030 on Antigua.

British Virgin Islands: Team has arrived in Antigua and is currently in hibernation protocol until the next storms pass. ShelterBoxes have arrived in Tortola awaiting the team’s arrival (Transport provided by Virgin Atlantic).  The team is liaising, through the District 7020 Disaster Committee, with local Rotarians to work together as assessments are undertaken by team. See attached photo of ShelterBoxes arriving on island.  

Past President Ryan Geluk of the Rotary Club of Road Town hard at work as ShelterBox hits the ground in the British Virgin Islands.

 

Dominican Republic: There is an identified gap in emergency shelter so we have signed an agreement to partner with Habitat for Humanity and we’re hoping to provide another 500 ShelterKits from Panama, along with training on how to use them. Habitat for Humanity oversee recovery efforts beyond this emergency phase, ensuring maximum benefit for the families we are helping. A ShelterBox Response Team is due to arrive next week (weather dependent) and has reached out to Rotary District 4060 in advance of their arrival.

 

Barbados: A Response team is in Barbados to work in the coordination hub there (which includes organisations like DHL Disaster Response Team, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency). We have established a ShelterBox hub on Barbados, to work on the complex logistics of getting aid to the families who desperately need it.  The Team is focused on coordinating safety for teams in the region due to inbound storms, as well as logistics and onward transport for aid, given current access constraints and high demand.

The team is also considering further potential response locations and capacity across the region – resources permitting.

For up to date information, keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Water filters to combat cholera – ShelterBox aid in Somaliland helps families facing drought and disease

Three years of drought in the African state of Somaliland has now left it in the grip of a cholera epidemic caused by dwindling and polluted water supplies. ShelterBox has been distributing water filters and carriers, as well as shelter materials to its nomadic population

Like much of the horn of Africa, Somaliland is enduring failing crops, a parched landscape, and now the scourge of cholera as water sources are contaminated by waste and rotting animal carcasses.

But one thing it doesn’t share with its neighbours is conflict – Somaliland is a peaceful agricultural republic. Most of its 4.5 million people make their living driving cattle in a constant search for water and fertile grazing land. Now, with more than half their livestock wiped out by the unprecedented three-year drought, people drink whatever water they can find.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Dave Raybould has just returned to Somaliland. He says, ‘This will be ShelterBox’s third deployment to Somaliland in as many months, and since we were last there the focus has moved from drought to disease, though the two are interconnected.’

‘The search for water is bringing the nomadic rural dwellers into the towns, where overburdened water sources are becoming a source of cholera. Cholera is an entirely treatable disease contracted through polluted and stagnant water, but with some areas reporting 500 cases a day Somaliland’s health resources are overstretched. Among ShelterBox’s aid package is the ‘thirst aid’ water filter, which rapidly makes dirty water safe to drink, a great help in halting the spread of waterborne disease.’

Cholera has not been seen in developed countries for over a century. Without treatment those infected quickly become dehydrated, but the condition can easily be treated using an oral rehydration sachet.

Thirst Aid Station water filters remove dangerous bacteria and viruses from water, making it safe to drink.

Dave says that ShelterBox has already distributed water filters and water carriers to hundreds of families, and their current visit will discuss a continuing aid programme via in-country partners ActionAid. The familiar green ShelterBoxes used in Somaliland contain the water kit, plus tarpaulins, tools, cooking utensils, solar lights, mosquito nets, blankets and groundsheets.

Adapted ShelterBoxes, containing tarpaulins instead of tents are distributed in Somaliland

Dave explains, ‘The standard ShelterBox dome tent is not needed in Somaliland as their traditional nomadic dwellings are made from found and recycled materials stretched over tree branch frames. So the tarpaulins we supply add to the resilience of these conventional shelters.’

ShelterBox is pleased to report that families who have already received its aid have found all of the contents instantly useful and practical.

Dave adds, ‘Somaliland was already struggling with drought and food insecurity, and the outbreak of cholera is an added blow. We will do all we can to help them with their thirst, with the battle against disease, and with their need for shelter.’

To help those affected by drought and natural disaster PLEASE DONATE 

As Mosul is retaken, ShelterBox stands by to help families that survived the epic battle.

Mosul1As nine months of bloody battle end in the routing of Islamic State resistance, aid agencies, including ShelterBox are standing by ready to support families who were trapped in a destroyed city

The long wait is over. Military reports indicate that the final enclaves of IS resistance in Mosul are now in retreat, signalling the end of the largest and longest urban battle anywhere on the earth since World War 2.

It is three years almost to the day that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a Caliphate in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and since last October the UN estimates that 855,000 people have fled the city.

Emergency shelter experts, ShelterBox and its partner aid agencies, most based in the city of Erbil 50 miles from Mosul, have faced huge challenges in responding to one of the world’s most unpredictable sieges – not knowing when people would flee, in what numbers, and in which direction. Displacement camps in the area have long been over capacity, so ShelterBox has tailored much of its aid to be highly portable, meeting the needs of families on the move in this hostile environment.

There are reports that as many as 100,000 people remain in Mosul, no longer held under IS control as human shields, but undoubtedly traumatised from years of warfare, starvation, and living without power, healthcare or fresh water. Those civilians who managed to escape have been rescued, hungry and severely shell-shocked. How many remain huddling in bombed-out buildings in daytime temperatures of 50° daytime is unknown.

Near Mosul, ShelterBox has worked with partners ACTED to:

  • Support 8,000 households / 40,000 individuals since the start of the offensive in October 2016 (5,682 households have been sheltered, additional households received individual items).
  • We have around 3,000 kits standing by now to be distributed when needed.
  • Our aid offer is adjusted with the changing seasons. Iraq is subject to extremes of temperature, over 50° c in summer, and below freezing in winter.

 

A ShelterBox team is in Erbil now making plans to respond to whatever displacement is triggered by the military endgame. Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett says, Although we have prepared for this stage over many months, it is still unpredictable in size and scale. We don’t yet know exactly how many tens of thousands remain in Mosul, what their needs are, and whether they can be met by staying in Mosul. The Old City has suffered extensive damage, with little power or water infrastructure surviving. While relative peace is to be welcomed, we are also concerned about underlying tensions in the region and what they mean for longer-term stability.

ShelterBox and its partners will have to act quickly but cautiously in responding to this latest phase in a very long story.’  

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Meanwhile ShelterBox continues its five-year intervention in Syria, where the city of Raqqa is the focus of a final military offensive. ShelterBox is not able to act here directly with teams on the ground because of the volatile and dangerous security environment, working instead through implementing partners such as Hand in Hand for Syria and ReliefAid. Other partners cannot be named for security reasons.

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ShelterBox has been responding to this conflict since 2012, providing shelter and lifesaving items to households in neighbouring countries Jordan (2012, 2013), Iraq (2013-2017) and Lebanon (2012, 2013) and to families transiting through the Greek islands (2015). In Syria itself a total of 24,404 households have been supported. Now ShelterBox is gearing up for its biggest ever single aid push into Syria. Details of locations and routes cannot be given because ShelterBox must do all it can to protect its people and its partners.

In 2016 across Iraq and Syria ShelterBox aid reached an estimated 230,000 people.

You can help those displaced b y conflict by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

ShelterBox sends team to Sri Lanka after worst monsoon flooding and mudslides since 2003 

 

Half a million people affected, around 85,000 made homeless. Disaster relief shelter experts, ShelterBox respond to Sri Lankan Government’s call for aid

International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox is sending a team to Sri Lanka today (1st June, 2017) to assess the need for the charity’s specialist aid – including sturdy weatherproof tents, emergency lighting, mosquito nets, and water filtration and carriers.

The team will be re-establishing partnerships with the Sri Lankan Government, colleague charities and local Rotary Clubs in response to the Sri Lankan government’s appeal to the United Nations for help with rescue and relief. The shelter experts responded to monsoon flooding and mudslides in Sri Lanka at this time last year, meaning they have developed the best possible experience in how to deal with flooding on the island and will be working with partners and the Sri Lanka government to share their expertise.

Sri Lankan residents walk through floodwaters in Kaduwela, Colombo. © Lakruwan Wanniarachchi: AFP

ShelterBox Operations Team Lead, James Luxton said, ‘This is déjà vu on a horrifying scale. I was with our team last year and I’m flying tomorrow again to meet up with our in-country contacts to carry out urgent assessments to help local families and communities.’

‘Last year’s response has given us solid experience of how best to level and drain sites so tents can be safely pitched. But the conditions are bad, monsoon rains are still falling, and many rivers are still overflowing. We know from monitoring our aid provision last year what will work best, and we’ll be offering that expertise to the Sri Lanka authorities, with whom we already have a good working relationship.’

In this latest monsoon tragedy the island’s emergency services are currently dealing with the rescue phase, and many people are housed in temporary shelters away from the flood zones. Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) warns that the death toll may rise as reports come in from outlying areas. But when the floodwaters recede there could be a need for temporary shelter of the kind provided by ShelterBox.

SRT volunteer, Derek Locke (USA) instructs Sri Lanakan soldiers on erecting a ShelterBox tent

SRT volunteer, Derek Locke (USA) instructs Sri Lanakan soldiers on erecting a ShelterBox tent during our deployment in 2016

 

Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to this ‘moving earth’ mudslide phenomenon, having cleared land over decades to grow export crops such as tea and rubber. When the rains fall this deforested landscape can quickly become a torrent of mud with collapsing hillsides.

In 2016, ShelterBox provided tents and other aid to hundreds of families across six different camps. The work was complex because land had to be levelled and drained before it could be used safely for pitches, ensuring occupants wouldn’t be at risk from further storms and flooding. ShelterBox teams worked in partnership with the Rotary Club of Capital City in Colombo, who provided invaluable in-country local knowledge from a network of Rotarians across the island, and with the International Organisation for Migration and World Vision.

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

ShelterKits distributed in Mozambique – Australian volunteer assists in assessment and training

Image of shelterkits being loaded in a warehouse in Mozambique

After Cyclone Dineo – ShelterBox is in Africa helping to re-home thousands after Mozambique’s storm damage and flooding

Cyclone Dineo struck the southern African country of Mozambique on 15 February. Its torrential rain and damaging winds destroyed 20,000 homes and affected 130,000 people.International disaster relief agency ShelterBox has been working with the Red Cross to help communities rebuild.

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The cyclone caused extensive damage over a widespread area

The South West Indian Ocean brews up a cyclone season every year, and in recent months there have been five tropical storms, with three intensifying into cyclones. Our photos show clear evidence of the destructive power of Dineo, and how ShelterBox and Red Cross response teams are taking aid to hard-hit areas such as Massinga and Morrumbene.

Dineo was the first tropical cyclone to hit the coast of Mozambique since 2008. 200 mm of rain fell in the province of Inhambane, at least seven people were killed, including a child crushed by a falling tree in Massinga. After the storm abated an estimated 130,000 people were in need of assistance.

South Australian Response team member, Megan Graham

Australian ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, Megan Graham was part of the second team in country, helping to assess needs and arrange customs clearance. Megan said,

The first team had performed a needs assessment in the area and determined that ShelterBox aid in the form of Shelter Kits was appropriate.  1,000 Shelter Kits and 2,000 mosquito nets were already identified to be sent to Mozambique.  My month in Mozambique was split between the capital, Maputo and Inhambane city.  The affected area was vast and the vulnerable families very spread out, we spent some time with our partners Red Cross to visit some of the potential beneficiaries and see the damage caused by Cyclone Dineo.  To identify the vulnerable families to receive the 1,000 Shelter Kits we needed to utilise the services of the local Red Cross Volunteers, we spent some days training them on the necessary data collection to ensure the most vulnerable were to receive the aid.  Whilst I was in the Inhambane area with a team working on the beneficiary collection a separate team was based in Maputo working on expediting Tax Exemption so that the aid could be flown in to the country.”

ShelterKits distribution in the filed

ShelterKits and other essential items were distributed with the help of the Red Cross

The aid that fitted the needs of the population best was ShelterKits containing materials to rebuild or repair basic dwellings. Women are seen carrying the kits on their heads, often with infants in arms and toddlers at their feet.

Response team member, Steven Tonkinson (USA) says,‘The people we have been distributing to are clearly among the most vulnerable in their communities. We have seen elderly men and women, people with severe physical disabilities, mothers with infants and orphaned children. It’s reassuring to know that our aid is going to those who need it most.’ 

Demonstrations of how to use the kit contents – tarpaulins, tools and fixings – were given to households. After consulting the local community, ShelterBox also included machetes, a widely used tool in Mozambique, and mosquito nets to avoid the scourge of malaria. The Machetes were transported safely to Mozambique in our familiar green boxes.

This careful selection of aid will mean people can rebuild their lives and livelihoods, and protect themselves from the weather.

You can help families affected by disasters by donating here: PLEASE DONATE