By the time the fire in Kutupalong Refugee camp was brought under control in the early hours of Tuesday, March 23, the devastation was hard to fathom. In just a few hours, it destroyed more than 10,000 shelters and displaced 50,000 people, half of whom are children. At least 11 people lost their lives, including three children. More than 500 people were injured, and at least 400 remain missing. An estimated 1,600 community facilities including hospitals, distribution points, and learning centers were lost in the fire.
The following morning, with the smoke still hanging thick in the air and scorched earth as far as the eye could see, Rohingya communities grieved. The apocalyptic scenes bore a sinister resemblance to the aftermath of the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in 2017 that pushed more than 700,000 Rohingya to seek shelter in Bangladesh. They visited the smoldering remains of their neighborhoods to look for missing loved ones and salvage items from the wreckage. But the fire spread so rapidly and fiercely through the densely-packed and flimsy bamboo shelters that little remained.
While trying to cope with this latest tragedy, the refugees immediately set to work to rebuild their homes and lives, and Community Partners International (CPI) mobilized in support.
An immediate priority is to clear the fire debris so that families can safely return and the construction of new shelters can begin. Since Thursday, teams of more than 500 host community and Rohingya volunteers supported by CPI began the arduous process of removing tons of fire debris.
As much of the camp cannot be accessed by heavy machinery, most of the work has to be done by hand. The volunteers work together, clearing debris into sacks and carrying them across the hilly terrain to access points where diggers and trucks can load up the debris and transport it away from the site. With several hundred people still missing, the volunteers work carefully as they are aware that they may uncover human remains at any moment.
It is hard and relentless work but the volunteers are motivated to get their communities back on their feet.
The clean-up operation will take many days due to the scale of destruction. CPI is providing volunteers with protective equipment including heavy-duty gloves, masks and shoes, as well as other equipment and materials that they need.
As soon as an area is cleared, families start to trickle back and put up makeshift tents while they wait for building materials to construct more permanent homes. The hillsides have already become dotted with these tents.
CPI plans to help families rebuild their shelters once the materials become available and provide any additional support that they need. Our strong host and refugee community networks mean that we are able to respond rapidly and flexibly in the coming days and weeks as communities continue to recover from this crisis.