Delivering Humanitarian Assistance in Cox’s Bazar During COVID-19

Congestion before the project came into force. Credit:
WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

By Srabasti Sarker
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Jun 15 2020 (IPS)

The novel coronavirus has affected the lives of millions
worldwide at its very onset. The situation in Bangladesh is no
different. Wearing masks and washing hands frequently have become
the new normal. The first laboratory confirmed COVID-19 case was
identified in Cox’s Bazar on 23 March. Unforeseen circumstances
often lead to unprecedented innovative actions as is exemplified by
a Humanitarian Access Project.

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 amongst the 860,000 Rohingya
refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, the Government of Bangladesh
moved rapidly to reduce the humanitarian footprint in the refugee
camps.

Refugees in Cox’s Bazar live in cramped makeshift shelters
made of bamboo and tarpaulin with less than one metre between each
shelter. Physical distancing is not an option in the densely
populated camps. Simple hygiene practices such as regular hand
washing can be difficult in a place where even access to clean
water is limited. To mitigate the spread of the virus in and out of
the camps and to ensure the continuity of the humanitarian
assistance in the safest way possible, a solution had to be
found.

Jointly launched by the Logistics Sector and its lead-agency the
United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Inter-Sector
CoordinationGroup (ISCG) and the Office of the Refugee Relief and
Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), the Humanitarian Access Project
supports government authorities to regulate vehicle access to the
camps while allowing humanitarian entry in accordance with the
prioritised needs of the population.

Initially, the access control entailed RRRC approving a list of
vehicles each day and the local and national law enforcement
agencies manually cross-checking each vehicle against the RRRC
approved list to ensure access is granted only to the authorized
vehicles. This process created long waiting times and bottlenecks
of up to two hours, leaving less time to deliver essential
humanitarian assistance needed in the camps.

Eventually, those involved came up with the idea of QR coded
vehicle passes for a limited number of vehicles. This vehicle
monitoring system is now enabling the authorities track the number
of vehicles as well as passengers entering the camps daily. Now
that a number of cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the camps,
this system becomes even more important to help the humanitarian
community maintain essential services.

Logistics Sector and WFP staff assisting the Bangladesh Army to
distinguish a vehicle from a particular humanitarian organisation
by scanning the unique QR code. Credit: Logistics Sector/Uttam
Das

The Quick Response Code (QR-Code), is an effective, fast
readable technology used for scanning various details of a
vehicle.

Sahand Tahir, Information Management Officer in the logistics
sector, explained how a fully digitized vehicle tracking tool was
designed and introduced in less than 48 hours to minimize delays at
the checkpoints. “WFP staff assist the authorities to distinguish
vehicles from the respective organisations going to the camps by
scanning the unique QR codes the vehicles have been provided with.
This enables the authorities to cross-check the vehicles and
approve them for entry while practicing physical distancing as
vehicle occupants are not required to get out of the vehicle,” he
said.

At present, there are seven checkpoints where 11 staff are
supporting the Bangladesh Army, Border Guard Bangladesh and local
police in this work.

One vehicle driver Larry Areng told IPS, “The process now
takes anywhere between 10 and 15 seconds per vehicle. Before this
system came into effect, we would have to wait long hours in
traffic before our vehicles were given access to the camps. This
would waste our valuable time needed to deliver humanitarian
assistance in the camps. The system has made my life a lot
easier.”

The WFP Representative in Bangladesh, Richard Ragan emphasised,
“This collaboration between agencies to get projects up and
running is extremely important in the fast-paced environment of
emergencies. The entire humanitarian community has reduced the
number of vehicles and staff entering the camps to about 540
vehicles and 2300 staff each day.”

Amongst other things, these workers provide food, health and
nutrition guidance, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and
logistics services, and site management; for the entire camp. All
of these are critically important activities for the refugee
population in the context of COVID-19.

Since August 2017, more than 745,000 refugees fled to Cox’s
Bazar, following an unprecedented exodus of Rohingya refugees from
Myanmar. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
reports the total refugee population to stand at 860,000. As a
result, the humanitarian operation supporting the government-led
response was scaled-up to manage the crisis.

The post
Delivering Humanitarian Assistance in Cox’s Bazar During
COVID-19
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Delivering Humanitarian Assistance in Cox’s Bazar During
COVID-19