Bangladesh’s government said Tuesday it had approved a Malaysian proposal to build a hospital in its southeastern region where a half-million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled since late August, and the U.N. warned that cholera could break out in refugee camps at any time.
Also on Tuesday, the home minister announced that thousands more Rohingya refugees had entered Bangladesh in the first days of October. Myanmar media, meanwhile, was reporting that another 10,000 Rohingya had amassed along the frontier between the two countries as they sought to cross over, according to a report by AFP.
“Over the last three days, around 30,000 more Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh. They were crossing the border when we had talks with the Myanmar minister,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.
Bangladeshi health and foreign ministry officials told BenarNews that the Malaysian government would fund the construction of the hospital, likely in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar district, which has bore the brunt of the influx. Construction is to begin on Thursday and it is expected to open in 15 to 20 days.
“The Malaysian government first proposed construction of two hospitals in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh’s government has approved the proposal. Initially, they will build one hospital as a pilot project for now,” Kazi Ehsanul Haque, a director at the foreign ministry, told BenarNews.
In Kuala Lumpur, a spokesman for the Malaysian foreign ministry said the plan called for the construction of a military field hospital equipped with an operation theater.
“It could hold 100 beds,” the spokesperson told BenarNews. “Military doctors and nurses have extensive experience handling situations like in Cox’s Bazaar, where refugees have gunshot wounds and other diseases from the camps. We are ready any time and ready to move upon receiving approval from the Bangladesh government.”
As of the last day of September, 509,000 refugees had arrived in southeastern Bangladesh since Aug. 25 as they fled an outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to a situation report published Tuesday by the Inter Sector Coordination Group. The ISCG coordinates the humanitarian response to the refugee situation in Bangladesh among government and international agencies and aid groups.
New UN warnings about water-borne diseases
At least 900,000 Rohingya refugees are sheltering in southeastern Bangladesh, including refugees who escaped from earlier cycles of violence in Rakhine. The presence of so many refugees there, combined with the fast-growing inflow of newcomers, has stretched resources at refugee camps and settlements to the limit.
On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement warning about potential health issues caused by the lack of proper sanitary conditions.
“Cholera is endemic in Bangladesh and can easily spread any time hundreds of thousands of people live in close proximity without proper sanitation,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in a statement.
UNHCR supports ministry of health efforts to vaccinate refugees against cholera.
“There are as yet no firm statistics on cases of acute watery diarrhea among the newly arrived refugees, and we are taking action to try to prevent severe illness and deaths. We have seen an increasing trend of diarrheal disease cases, including cases of diarrhea with severe dehydration,” he said.
“So far, refugees with these conditions have been treated at clinics run by UNHCR and other agencies, and at local public health facilities.”
On Monday, the UNHCR opened a 20-bed diarrhea treatment center in the Kutupalong refugee camp to be run by the government’s refugee health unit, a coalition of national and international NGOs.
“By the end of this week, we will have a total of 80 beds in diarrhea treatment centers in three locations, and we plan to open two more centers next week,” the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement.
UNHCR also plans to open rehydration centers where many of the more than one-half million refugees who have arrived since Aug. 25 are congregating. Refugees suffering from moderate dehydration will be treated immediately and those who require more intense therapy can be referred to the larger diarrhea treatment centers.
In other developments in southeastern Bangladesh, Home Minister Khan said Tuesday that a Rohingya man was killed in a land mine explosion along the southeastern border.
The man, identified as Nurul Islam, went to the border to graze his cow when the land mine went off and fatally injured him, Khan said, quoting police officials.
Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.