It’s a busy day in Kutupalong Registered Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The entry road is jammed with Rohingya refugees queuing to receive relief goods or trying to take them back home. Close to a million Rohingya live here now and in adjacent camps and further south. Many of their closely packed shelters are bamboo and tarp shacks in low-lying areas or on steep, sandy hillsides – highly vulnerable to floods and landslides. Having fled violent persecution in Myanmar, the Rohingya arrived in Cox’s Bazar seeking safety. However, with the monsoon in full swing, they now face torrential rains and living with the risk of landslides and flooding destroying their temporary homes.
Humanitarian actors are working hard to support these displaced communities by providing continuous relief assistance and improving their living conditions as much as possible. Ahead of the monsoon and cyclone season, disaster prevention and preparedness is a critical focus. However, the process of preparing safer spaces on limited flat land for the refugees to relocate to has not been as straightforward as anticipated. Now that some spaces are finally available in the relocation sites, there is frantic activity to ensure that priority households are moved first and that critical support is offered to those who remain.
This complex operation relies heavily on actors being able to communicate with each other in a timely and reliable manner. Frequent updates on the constantly changing situations in the camps and measures taken to address emerging concerns need to be communicated between responders both in the camps and in Cox’s Bazar town. In such a delicate context, the speedy transmission of accurate information to guide decision-making and action could spell the difference between life and death.
In an ideal world, the easiest way to communicate here in the field would be by mobile phone. But even in good conditions, cellular coverage for secured communications in the camps is patchy. In extreme weather, the network can break down and easily get overloaded due to the sudden surge in people using mobiles.
A separate Very High Frequency (VHF) security radio network dedicated for humanitarians is a much more robust and reliable solution. However, the current security radio network in Cox’s Bazar was not designed to deal with the rapid expansion of camps in hilly terrain and the accompanying increased user demand.
Without reliable security telecommunications, it is impossible to ensure the safety and security of responders, particularly when they visit affected populations in areas at risk of landslides and flooding. A lack of security telecommunications also hampers coordination and can result in duplication of efforts leading to an inefficient response and a delay in getting lifesaving assistance to those most in need.
To mitigate these potential risks and improve coverage, the Emergency Telecommunications Sector (ETS) led by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Cox’s Bazar is upgrading and expanding the network by deploying new radio equipment in five sites. ETS telecommunications specialist Lasse Axelsson is coordinating the work while the United Nations Department of Safety and Security’s (UNDSS) Manjurul Haque is supervising a team of climbers and workers to install the equipment.
The work began on 2 June 2018 in Kutupalong Camp on a 60-metre-high commercial tower. The ETS set up the new transmitter antenna 50 metres off the ground to provide a stronger signal. The antenna’s height and new location along with the equipment being installed in the four other sites, will significantly enhance and expand the security network coverage in and around Cox’s Bazar.
Once completed, this project will enable improved communication and coordination, and ensure the safety of all humanitarian actors. More than that, it will mean the Rohingya refugees will receive the assistance that they desperately need, throughout the monsoon season and beyond when the rains dry up.
By Mark Maulit, Information Management Officer, ETS Cox’s Bazar