For decades, Bangladesh has offered a safe haven for Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. However, following widespread military crackdowns in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017, the massive influx of Rohingya refugees has worsened the humanitarian situation in Bangladesh. It is also one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, exposed to a variety of natural hazards including cyclones, floods and earthquakes. The high population density exacerbates the impact of disasters.
Over the past 40 years, the Rohingya – an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority – has fled persecution and discrimination in Myanmar, mostly seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. Following violent military crackdowns in northern parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, more than 745,000 Rohingya have fled across the border in search of protection and assistance.
The scale of the influx has put a tremendous strain on existing services in the Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazar, requiring a massive increase of assistance to cater to the new needs. Being the world’s largest stateless population, most of them without formal refugee status, the Rohingya are unable to pursue education or formal employment. They remain vulnerable to exploitation and serious protection risk. Approximately 900,000 Rohingya currently live in Bangladesh and entirely depend on humanitarian aid.
Bangladesh, mostly low-lying and at the confluence of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers, is prone to seasonal flooding, landslides, and cyclones, making it one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. The frequency, unpredictability and severity of these disasters are likely to be adversely affected by global warming, population growth, environmental degradation and ill-maintained infrastructure - all contributing to increasing humanitarian needs.
In 2020, the European Union provided €30.4 million in humanitarian aid in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis and in disaster response in other parts of the country. This includes nearly €27 million in humanitarian aid, which covers food assistance and nutrition, clean water and sanitation, healthcare services and education, as well as increased protection for the most vulnerable groups.
Part of the allocation is used to improve Cox’s Bazar’s response to coronavirus, while also contributing to the country’s coronavirus response plan with the support of the World Health Organization. The rest of the funding is used to scale up preparedness measures for natural hazards, especially during the rainy season, which usually trigger floods, landslides, cyclones and tidal surges in what is currently the most densely populated refugee camp in the world. The funding will also strengthen the preparedness for future earthquakes in urban areas in the congested capital of Dhaka, as well as early action in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh.
The EU has been working in Bangladesh since 2002, both in disaster preparedness and emergency response activities, with a total funding of more than €274.7 million. EU humanitarian aid provides life-saving support to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in the camps and settlements in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts. Additionally, the EU also continues to fund emergency assistance to people affected by natural hazards.
In August 2020, the EU allocated €1.65 million in response to devastating monsoon floods in South Asia, out of which €1 million is dedicated to addressing the urgent humanitarian needs in Bangladesh, where at least 5.4 million people were affected by the floods. The aid focuses on providing emergency food assistance, shelter materials and access to clean water supplies and good hygiene practices, while also contributing to improving the livelihood of those who have lost their homes and belongings.
Disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and resilience remain key priority areas for the EU in Bangladesh. This includes supporting locally identified initiatives such as the building of flood-resistant infrastructure and early warning systems, and school-based disaster preparedness. The EU, together with its humanitarian partners, seeks to ensure that people's livelihoods are more resistant to natural hazards, thereby reducing their level of vulnerability to shocks and stresses. Since 2001, the EU has mobilised close to €39 million to disaster risk reduction and resilience building activities in Bangladesh, including €3.5 million in 2020.