Security, dignity, self-determination: empowering Rohingya refugee women in Bangladesh

By Dominique Godbout, Programs Officer, Humanitarian Assistance

Women are closely involved in determining the design priorities for shelters in the Rohingya refugee camps.

It has now been four years since the beginning of the massive influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma (Myanmar) into Bangladesh. Four years that Caritas Bangladesh, through its Emergency Response Program, has been working tirelessly to respond to the critical needs of the Rohingya women, girls, boys and men who live in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Since 2017, too, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, with support from thousands of Canadians and Global Affairs Canada, has been helping Caritas Bangladesh provide dignified and safe shelters to families in congested and disaster-prone camps.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy drove our commitment to ensuring that the shelters meet the specific needs of those who spend the most time in them: women, adolescent girls and other vulnerable groups. This meant that shelters had to be made of durable materials; be well ventilated; and have safe cooking and bathing spaces, room partitions for increased privacy, and locks for safety.

Caritas Bangladesh’s gender-sensitive, community-led approach to shelter rehabilitation and construction has had meaningful impacts on the community, especially for women, girls and vulnerable groups. Female participants have gained the confidence to voice their needs and participate in making decisions about upgrades to their shelters. They have also become skilled, knowledgeable, and self-reliant with respect to shelter rehabilitation/construction. Their use of these new skills and capacities has also led to greater community cohesion and pride. Women also feel a greater sense of security and confidence in their shelters’ ability to withstand recurring extreme weather events. Caritas Bangladesh is helping Rohingya women develop shelter planning, construction and maintenance skills.

Caritas Bangladesh is helping Rohingya women develop shelter planning, construction and maintenance skills.

In the past year, fires, floods, cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused several setbacks in the delivery of the humanitarian response. This has had adverse impacts on the safety and well-being of the refugees, especially those from the most vulnerable households. These difficulties notwithstanding, Development and Peace remains committed to supporting Caritas Bangladesh’s sustained effort to secure the dignity of the Rohingya people and improve their prospects.

Haiti needs our support

At 8:29 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, 2021, a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula, about 150 kilometres west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Much of the damage occurred in the towns of Jérémie and Les Cayes. The force of the earthquake was felt across most of the country, particularly in the West Department.

The disaster has severely affected Haiti’s southern region, including the Departments of Grande-Anse and Nippes. The latter has been hit particularly hard because the quake’s epicentre was in the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, in the Anse-à-Veau District.

The damage has been enormous. By the evening of August 15, Haiti’s national Civil Protection Agency had reported 1,300 dead, more than 5,700 injured, 13,600 houses destroyed and more than 30,250 families needing shelter. By that time, some 800,000 citizens were directly affected and the people were also preparing for the arrival of a tropical depression (named Grace), which is expected to bring torrential rains and, potentially, landslides and flooding to the areas.

Many businesses, municipal buildings, schools and homes have collapsed and many water sources are contaminated. In the Diocese of Les Cayes, the Catholic Church, an important source of succour in trying times, is reporting severe damage to many of its structures.

In Port-à-Piment, the road to Labei is cut off from the rest of the South Department. Elsewhere in the country, roads are damaged or blocked by landslides. Deep fissures have opened up in places, causing local flooding in many rural areas.

The disaster is bringing back traumatic memories of the earthquake of 2010. Fearing aftershocks, many people are preferring to sleep outdoors.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry has declared a month-long state of emergency. This highlights the enormous need for food, water, shelter, clothing, blankets, first aid supplies, hygiene kits, vehicles and fuel as well as first aiders and medical personnel.

Development and Peace’s partner, ITECA has sent relief trucks and assessment teams to the affected regions.

Development and Peace’s partner, ITECA has sent relief trucks and assessment teams to the affected regions.

Development and Peace — Caritas Canada’s partners, the Institut de Technologie et d’Animation (ITECA) and Caritas Haiti have sprung into action. In three stricken departments, Caritas Haiti is participating in various coordination activities under Haiti’s national risk management plan, which has been activated to help the population. ITECA has sent relief trucks and assessment teams to the affected regions.

These are the same regions whose recovery you generously supported after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Your donations had allowed ITECA to build 25 earthquake-resistant homes in the commune of Cavaillon. Now, ITECA reports that 13 out of 14 of these houses that it inspected have withstood the earthquake. The remaining houses will be surveyed presently.

Today, our partners once again need your support to intensify their relief efforts and to develop such durable long-term recovery solutions.

The Beirut blasts: a one-year update

By: Judith Faucher, International Projects Funding Officer

On August 4, 2020, a dockside fire in Beirut, Lebanon, triggered a series of explosions in a chemical storage unit. So powerful were the twin blasts that a regional seismological observatory registered them as a magnitude 4.5 earthquake. The consequences were devastating. More than 200 people were killed, more than 7,500 people were injured and about 300,000 people were displaced.

Development and Peace — Caritas Canada launched an emergency fund to help the victims. Our members and supporters responded unstintingly, helping raise over $700,000. This allowed us to support our local partners’ on-the-ground emergency response.

On behalf of these partners and the people they serve, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your solidarity.

Serving the most vulnerable people

Over the past 12 months, our partners, Caritas Lebanon and Basmeh and Zeitooneh, have helped some the most marginalized of the victims. They provided:

  • Dairy processing skills training, job kits and linkages with the local market to women’s groups from blast-affected urban areas to help them set up small businesses
  • Income generation support to help 145 Syrian and Lebanese secure their basic needs through labour-intensive clean-up and recovery work
  • Shelter, medical assistance, mental health and psychosocial services, legal counselling, social activities and skills training to 30 female migrant domestic workers and victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking
  • Critical lifesaving services including basic assistance packages, medical assistance and mental health and psychosocial services to 130 vulnerable migrant workers

A focus on health and hygiene

Thanks to generous funding from Quebec’s Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie, Development and Peace could offer additional support to Caritas Lebanon, enabling it to reach some 9,000 victims of the explosions (including 5,100 women and girls) with:

  • Primary health care services
  • Psychological first aid, mental health follow-ups and psychosocial support (including psychosocial recreational activities for children)
  • Hygiene and disinfection kits and personal protective equipment

Bridging the divides

Decades of regional conflict, a 15-year civil war and enduring instabilities have left Lebanon fragmented along political, social and religious lines. Power is shared by Muslim and Christian groups, but peace remains precarious. In this scenario, our long-term development partners, Adyan Foundation and PAX, have sustained their important work in the explosions’ aftermath through advocacy, dialogues, roundtables, networking, training, capacity-building and peace-building initiatives aimed at strengthening democracy, citizenship and social cohesion.

Ongoing challenges

With the COVID-19 pandemic compounding ongoing economic and political crises, Lebanon’s overall situation remains alarming. Millions have seen their living conditions deteriorate, a third of Lebanese children go to bed hungry and more than half the population now lives in poverty. That is why we need more of support to fulfill the objectives of our 2020-2022 Lebanon program framework, which are to:

  1. Address immediate basic needs (health, shelter and protection)
  2. Enable people to regain their autonomy and self-sufficiency
  3. Empower people to take their rightful place at the heart of the country’s renewal

We know that you are keeping the Lebanese people in your thoughts and prayers. Your generosity continues to be needed and sincerely appreciated.