Over 87,000 people have been left shelter-less after a fire broke out in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh on Monday. United Nations personnel are on the ground coordinating evacuation and other relief efforts.

According to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), the fire started in Camp 8W at around 15:00 (local time) on March 22, and then spread through camps 8E, 9 and 10. The fire affected at least 66 percent of the populations of camps 9, 10, 8E and 8W. 

In a statement released IOM said, “More than 10,000 shelters were damaged in the fire and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s largest health centre in the camp was destroyed. The loss of the 24/7 health centre, which served more than 55,000 people in the last year, now further complicates the challenge of responding to COVID-19.” 

IOM further said, “The fire that raged through the camps only slowed once it reached the main roads, slopes, canals and rice fields. It has since subsided, but not before consuming essential facilities, shelters and the personal belongings of tens of thousands of people,” adding, “The cause of the fire is still unknown. According to humanitarian agencies and local authorities, 11 people have lost their lives, more than 500 people have been injured and roughly 400 are still missing.” 

“This disaster is a terrible setback that exacerbates the humanitarian needs of refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino, adding, “We will need to start from zero to rebuild. Our hearts are with all those affected.  We are committed to helping them build back safer with the support of the government of Bangladesh, our donors, partners and humanitarian actors.” 

There are also reports that children are among the injured and many have been separated from their families.

“UNICEF child protection personnel and their partner organizations are working to assist children in need including separated children. Our partners are also delivering emergency supplies and clean drinking water,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, adding, “Our priority is to secure the immediate safety, security and protection of children in coordination with the concerned authorities, first responders and partner organizations in the UN and NGO community.”

According to the UN, the Kutupalong camp network, which includes about 26 subcamps, houses over 700,000 of the roughly 880,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (as of February 2021). Two nutrition centres and one food distribution centre run by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and IOM’s largest health clinic in the camp, have been burnt to the ground. Two other WFP nutrition sites and one e-voucher outlet have been closed until damage can be assessed.

While the WFP is providing 62,000 hot lunches and 62,000 hot dinners to the affected, the IOM has deployed ambulances and medical teams to respond to injuries and to provide mental health and psychosocial support. It is also distributing emergency shelter kits, as well as blankets, solar lights, mosquito nets and jerry cans.

*Feature image courtesy IOM Bangladesh via Twitter.