KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (AP) — Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern that monsoon floods could threaten the lives of Rohingya refugees in sprawling camps in Bangladesh.
Ban, who was visiting in his role as head of The Hague-based Global Commission on Adaptation to climate change, or GCA, said he was "saddened and dismayed" by what he saw while visiting the Kutupalong camp Wednesday in the southern coastal district of Cox's Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have fled military-backed persecution in their home country.
Bangladesh has a history of violent cyclones but has reduced the number of casualties from such natural disasters by investing in roads and other public infrastructure, building cyclone shelters and training volunteers across its vast coastal region, which has the world's largest continuous beach.
Still, the U.N.'s children's agency UNICEF said earlier this week in a statement that thousands of families living in the refugee camps and Bangladeshi communities in surrounding villages are at risk from flooding and landslides caused by heavy rainfall in the last few days. The situation is particularly grim in the camps, though many of the more than 4,000 families affected have been relocated to safer areas, it said.
One 7-year-old boy drowned following heavy rains, and two children were injured, the agency said. It said that schools and other facilities serving more than 60,000 children have been damaged.
"It's just impossible to think of how all these young people live in this condition ... I know that there are more than half a million young people," Ban told The Associated Press in an interview during his visit to the camps at Kutupalong.
Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
On Thursday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or IFRC, said in a statement that heavy rains triggered landslides in camps in Cox's Bazar, prompting the agency to organize response operations in seven camps where more than 8,500 people have been affected and over 1,800 shelters have been damaged or destroyed.
It said the situation could be worse as the World Meteorological Organization forecasts that in July, Bangladesh will be hit by the highest amount of rainfall for all of 2019, with more than 730mm of rain expected over an average of 22 days.
Ban was visiting along with the World Bank's Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva and other commissioners of the GCA, which was initiated by the Netherlands and set up in 2018. Ban and Microsoft founder Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are co-chairs along with Georgieva.
Ban and other GCA leaders could see vast areas of the delta nation of 160 million under water as they flew on Air Force helicopters from Dhaka, the capital, to Cox's Bazar.
"Bangladesh, of course, is one of the most vulnerable countries and climate change is happening much, much faster," said Ban, who also met with the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to discuss the country's efforts to adapt to flooding, rising sea levels and extreme weather.
"Bangladesh has been wisely investing with a vision of Prime Minister Hasina. That is why we are here to learn the lessons from Bangladesh and to disseminate this message to the world far and wide," he said.
Georgieva praised Bangladesh's progress in reducing damage and deaths from the monsoon season floods.
During the ride to Cox's Bazar, the officials saw low-lying land "as far as the eye can see, a lot of water, it is monsoon season, but also roads are elevated so they can sustain the flooding," she said. "More and more green belts that protect the inland communities and I also saw that the agriculture is clearly doing well."
The GCA was launched with the support of 17 convening countries including China, Canada and the UK and low-lying countries vulnerable to climate change including Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands.