Bangladesh has opened its borders to the Rohingya, stateless Muslim minorities, in danger from their home country Myanmar.  The Rohingya have taken shelter in the Cox's Bazar area to escape a violent state of ethnic cleansing (OCHA, 2017).  Summer monsoons in Bangladesh, with increased precipitation, have a devastating effect on this refugee community.  Due to lack of vegetation, infrastructure, and sanitation in the Kutupalong-Balukhali camps, the storms will result in flooding and mudslides within the settlements (Miles, 2018).  

Smoke rises from war at the Myanmar border as refugees are seen crossing the Bangladesh border.

Reuters, 2018

Rohingya children fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Reuters, 2018


The Cox's Bazar area was home to 13,901 refugees before the latest surge bringing the count up to 688,000 plus refugees (Reuters, 2017).  The allocated camp sites have now been unofficially extended, turning the green, hilly areas that once were unoccupied into muddy fields crowded with tents and shelters (Reuters, 2017).

Immediate Concern

The Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982 (OCHA, 2017).  The violent state has been escalating in Myanmar and the Rohingya have been fleeing to Bangladesh to avoid human rights violations and religious persecutions.  Since August 2017, 688,000 refugees have taken shelter in the Cox's Bazar area.  The Bangladesh government has allocated 3,000 acres of land to build new camps (Miles, 2018).  The refugees have arrived before infrastructure and safety plans were set in place resulting in makeshift settlements in limited space with very little provisions. 


Reuters, 2017


Reuters, 2017

Rohingya Crisis: Seeking safety on higher ground



The warming of the Earth's atmosphere intensifies the monsoon weather in the Bangladesh (Kripalani, 2007).  The intensification covers a larger area and increase the amount of precipitation brought by the monsoons (Liu, 2011).  The additional forcing, influencing the strength of the monsoons, is due to the increase in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and water vapor over the South Asian region (IPCC, 2013).  There is also a trough of low pressure making its way over the region leading to a moisture convergence.  The strength and timing of the monsoons is also effected by the difference of sea-land temperature contrast.  The land surface temperature is increasing at a higher rate than ocean temperature, therefore, causing a longer monsoon season (IPCC, 2013).

Rohingya refugees seeking shelter from rain.

VOA news, 2017

Exposure and Vulnerability

Bangladesh is located at the confluence of the Ganges, Meghna, and Brahmaputra.  This location makes the area more vulnerable to the projected increase of rainfall from the summer monsoons.  When rainfall occurs, the large volume exceeds the capacity of the rivers drainage channels causing massive flooding (Mirza, 2002).  The simultaneous and long duration of flooding that each river experiences increases the magnitude of disaster for the settlement camps.  The Cox's Bazar area lacks the necessary vegetation to buffer flooding and mudslides.  The area is composed of soil that is a combination of silt, clay, and sand that has a tendency to move during rainfall (UNHCR, 2018).  The settlement camps located in this area were hastily constructed with makeshift latrines and housing.  The images below show the close proximity of the latrines and open defecation spots to the shelters of the Rohingya.  The UNHCR guidelines specify that latrines should not be within six meters to the homes of refugees, however, the camps are very crowded and cannot follow the standards (Reuters, 2017).  The flooding could result in the contamination of drinking water and an increase in diseases, such as cholera and diphtheria, due to the incredibly high chance fecal matter will pollute the resources (Miles, 2018). 

Latrine usage

Reuters, 2017

Open defecation areas

Reuters, 2017

Adaptation and Resilience

Many aid officials are concerned for the safety and livelihood of the Rohingya refugees during the upcoming summer months.  Workers from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have distributed 33,000+ shelter kits to Rohingya families (Beaubien, 2018).  The UNHCR also provide the refugees with bamboo poles and tarpaulins to weather proof their makeshift shelters (UNHCR, 2018).  The workers are building latrines with cement foundations and holding tanks to cater basic sanitation.  UNHCR is also securing infrastructure by reinforcing footpaths with bamboo, building retaining walls for soil stabilization, and building networks for drainage systems (UNHCR, 2018).  Rohingya families are being relocated to safer areas with the help of the International Organization for Migration.  In new relocation sites, mechanical diggers are decreasing the angle of steep hillsides by backfilling the valleys with soil to provide shelters with stable ground (UNHCR, 2018).  Public health workers are digging deeper boreholes to draw cleaner water and prepositioning medicine to ensure availability to treatments in case of disease outbreaks within the settlements (Beaubien, 2018).

Leveling Settlements.

UNHCR, 2018

Bamboo Structures for weather proofing.

UNHCR, 2018






Long-term resilience plans for the Rohingya refugee crisis focus on involving perpetual responses to urgent humanitarian needs, the mobilization of necessary resources to support long-term development of formal communities, and a critical shift in policy to enhance the Rohingya refugees' rights, freedoms, and status (HPG, 2017).  UNICEF's response plan prioritizes life-saving interventions that focus on providing safe water and basic sanitation, nutrition, vaccinations, psychosocial support, and education (UNICEF, 2017).  Contributing parties that help finance Bangladesh's National Appropriate Programs of Action (NAPAs) include Australia, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States (UNFCCC, 2018).  Bangladesh mainly focuses on climate change adaptation in the sectors of emergency preparedness, provisions of shelter and basic necessities during disasters, and promoting resiliency (UNFCCC, 2018).

About the Author

Deanna Sullivan is a class of 2020 Environmental Studies and Psychology double major at St. Lawrence University.  She is originally from Corona, California.  She plays on the varsity softball team at SLU.  The webpage was created in Spring 2018 for Jon Rosales' course Adapting for Climate Change.  Deanna has a passion for environmental justice. 

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