An aid worker collects information from families impacted by the fire. Photo: Action Against Hunger, Bangladesh.
When a devastating fire tore through Kutupalong-Balukhali, the world’s largest refugee camp on March 22, it reduced thousands of shelters to ashes and left over 45,000 people displaced. The camp, located in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, houses nearly a million Rohingya refugees. In the chaos of the fire, children were separated from their parents as they ran to find safety. Along with their shelter, many people lost all their belongings, including identification cards, food assistance cards and other critical documents needed to work and access essential services.
Effective communication is fundamental to humanitarian response and is especially important in the aftermath of a crisis. In Kutupalong-Balukhali, a city-sized camp with rapidly evolving needs, disseminating information is a challenge. This is where Communication with Communities comes in. Communication with Communities is supported by the Government of Canada and led by Action Against Hunger and our partner organizations in Kutupalong-Balukhali. Communication with Communities activities help ensure that residents of the camp have access to timely and accurate information so they can make informed decisions, access vital aid services, and get the support they need. It also provides feedback mechanisms to help strengthen the accountability of aid groups to the refugee community and improve delivery of services.
Action Against Hunger’s Communication with Communities team mobilized immediately to help those impacted by the fire and reunite families who had been separated. Using audio public service announcements, they provided advice to parents and caregivers who had been separated from their children, and instructed children on what to do if they were lost. Communication with Communities staff also explored the affected areas to provide information and assistance to the many camp residents who had been displaced.
As staff explored the area, they met Taslima, who was in tears by the roadside with her two children. Her house had burned down in the fire and her husband was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the family’s separation was brief: staff brought Taslima and her children to a nearby Action Against Hunger centre, where her husband, Mohammed, had also gone to locate his family. They ran toward one another, tears streaming down their faces. When Mohammed embraced his three-year-old daughter, her face lit up with joy. “At a time of distress, we are trying to provide an invaluable service for what is needed most: the comfort of a family,” says Communication with Communities officer Ridoanur Rahaman.
Communication with Communities staff helped reunite Mohammed with his wife and children after the fire. Photo: Jahadul Islam, Action Against Hunger, Bangladesh
Since the fire, Communication with Communities staff have reunited 29 people with their families and reached hundreds more through awareness-raising sessions, where they share information about how to access food and medical assistance and what to do if identity documents have been lost. These awareness-raising sessions are helping ensure that those impacted by the fire know where to go for help and how to access the resources they need to get back on their feet.
Beyond enabling critical information to be shared in emergency situations, Communication with Communities provides opportunities for residents of the camp to share their experiences and learn about nutrition, mental health, hygiene, and other topics impacting their well-being. This is done through group information sessions, face-to-face information sharing, and audiovisual materials which are designed with the specific needs of the community in mind.
Communicating with Communities also provides opportunities for Rohingya women and adolescent girls to make their voices heard on issues like protection and dignity, gender-based violence, and household decision-making, while providing feedback on their own priorities and concerns regarding life in the camp.
The Government of Canada has supported Action Against Hunger activities in Cox’s Bazar since April 2017, facilitating a multisectoral intervention that includes Nutrition and Health; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; and Mental Health and Care Practices activities as well as “Communication with Communities” activities for public education and information sharing.
Project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC).
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