Working for Clean Water and Health in a Rohingya Refugee Camp

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

When Payden, the Regional Adviser for Water and Sanitation in WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office, looks at Rohingya girls and women carrying water inside the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, she can closely relate to them. She remembers how as a child back in her village in Bhutan, she would carry water home with her mother.

“I was around 6-7 years old when I started fetching water, but I would carry a smaller container. My mother would carry a bigger one. We had to collect water from the stream or from the spring and bring it home. We started getting piped water very late, maybe when I was 15 years old. I think my interest in water came because as a child I faced hardship collecting water,” she says.

Girl carrying water in Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar
Girl carrying water in Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar
WHO/ Mehak Sethi

From WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office, Payden has been supporting the 11 Members States with a focus on Bangladesh, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, mainly in ensuring drinking water safety. She has been deployed to support the emergencies in Myanmar, Nepal, and most recently in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, for conducting water quality surveillance in Rohingya camps.

In Cox’s Bazar, water and sanitation continues to be far from optimal. This increases the risk of rapid spread of several communicable and water-borne diseases.

Payden during a staff meeting in WHO’s Cox’s Bazar office
Payden during a staff meeting in WHO’s Cox’s Bazar office
WHO/ Mehak Sethi

“Our analysis of 624 source and 1 248 household water samples in 2017 showed that 23 % of the source samples and 77 % of the household samples had E. coli contamination. Meaning household water storage, handling, and hygiene were not adequate. We are trying to change that through hygiene education and training of community health volunteers who later conduct training in the community on how to store and handle water properly in households in the camps,” says Payden.

Clean drinking water is a priority as some cases of Acute Jaundice Syndrome have been found in the camps, some tested positive for hepatitis A and one for hepatitis E. Both hepatitis A and E are transmitted through human excreta, which goes in the environment or water, or food and infects people. These are waste and sanitation related diseases.

“Pregnant women are more vulnerable to hepatitis E which can lead to severe disease or even death,” says Payden.

There more than 50,000 pregnant women, amongst the Rohingya population, with more than 16 000 expected to deliver over the next three months.

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