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.

Raising funds in Burra – one bite at a time!

Young scout Trystan Readman made a promise way back in February to raise enough money to house a family in need of shelter after a disaster – Trystan achieved that goal and more as part of his Promise Badge as part the 1st Burra Scout Group in Burra NSW.

‘When Trystan approached ShelterBox, and said he wanted to fundraise for ShelterBox we were immediately impressed by his passion and his determination. We’ve been watching his endeavours with great interest over the last few months and have all been amazed by his effort said Paul Roger, ShelterBox Ambassador from Jerrabomberra.

Trystan’s initial goal was to free the world from hunger but this admirable goal was scaled back a little to provide a home to at least one family affected by disaster. ShelterBox was chosen to support as a leading international disaster relief organisation that provides emergency shelter to families devastated by floods, landslides and disaster.

Trystan was determined that he could raise $1000 to buy a ShelterBox and decided to raise funds by baking cupcakes, fudge (his favourite), protein balls, and chocolate chip cookies. With the help of his sister Meisha, they baked their way to raising over $1200 in total from selling their baked goodies at $1 each.

“The cookies were a massive hit at my workplace and there was much anticipation each week by my colleagues.’ said his mum Elvira Readman.

Trystan with ShelterBox Ambassador, Paul Roger

Trystan’s recipe is a closely guarded secret but one that has brought much joy to his customers and soon to a family in need. ‘Trystan is a classic example of one person making a huge difference’ said ShelterBox CEO Mike Greenslade. ‘We are indebted to all our fundraisers across Australia that build community service into their busy schedules just like Trystan has done’.

After selling 1000 cookies Trystan realised his goal of raising $1000 for a full ShelterBox and with a morning tea at his mum’s workplace, Paul Roger gave a presentation on the real impact that Trystan’s money will have on families. ‘This huge effort by Trystan will make a lifelong difference to a family who has lost everything. By providing a home to someone who has absolutely nothing is the greatest gift in such a terrible time. We are all very grateful to Trystan and his customers’.

There’s no stopping Trystan – his next goal is to raise enough money for a ShelterKit!

Diane and baby Yokimi in front of their ShelterBox tent.

You can make a real difference to those affected by disaster!

Do you have a great fundraising idea? Do you want to help families affected by disaster and crisis? Start your won fundraising page here: https://nfp.everydayhero.com/au/shelterbox-australia

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 

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.

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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.

image of a collapsed dwelling

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

 

Displaced families caught between a rock and hard place in Syria

ShelterBox partners, Hand In Hand For Syria continue to reach desperate families displaced by the conflict in Syria. In recent days they have been trucking in supplies to urban collective centres that are housing families who quit the mountain town of Madaya, scene of the notorious ‘starvation siege’ which saw around 40,000 residents trapped by a military stand-off. For over a year they lived only on meagre rations of rice delivered in occasional aid convoys. When the siege broke last October children and the elderly were showing the effects of famine and could barely walk straight. Months without meat or milk had seen many making soup out of grass in the search for nutrition.

Now, although they are being fed and are relatively safe, they find themselves pawns in a relocation deal between rebels and the government. Hand in Hand aid workers have been shipping in ShelterBox mattresses, cooking equipment, water carriers, blankets and other basic items to families in the appointed collective centres, and to those staying nearby with friends and relatives or with host families.

Photos show the desperate clamour for this aid as people queue, some making precarious onward journeys overloading bikes and vans.

Another aid drop in recent days has seen tents distributed to a timeworn displacement camp in Idlib Governorate. The climate of extreme temperatures takes its toll on canvas, and many of these threadbare tents have standing in the open for years. ShelterBox and Hand in Hand have now arranged for some to be replaced. 

 

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett says, ‘79 tents were distributed to replace broken tents. I don’t know how long they’d been living there – it varies between a few months to years. The Hand in Hand team has a network, either they are asked directly by a local council, or the shelter aid cluster notifies them. Then HiH do an assessment and confirm exact numbers, and decide whether it is appropriate to respond.’

You can help those displaced in Syria and other countries by donating here:

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