Since August 25, thousands of families have been crossing the border into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Close to 700,000 people have entered Bangladesh since August, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.

After the worst flooding that Bangladesh has seen in decades, these families are being forced to set up makeshift camps in a sea of mud. They are extremely vulnerable, having already experienced severe trauma.

Now cyclone season is on the way and could wash away the flimsy shelters, leaving thousands in danger once again.

We have an experienced team on the ground working hard with local Rotary contacts and partners to help as many families as possible. Many left their homes with nothing and we know that they desperately need shelter, lighting, and water.

Severe Flooding

Bangladesh cannot cope with the Rohingya crisis alone, especially since the country was been hit by severe flooding during the Monsoon season. At its worst, more than a third of the land was submerged.

More than 70,000 homes have been completely destroyed and 500,000 are partially damaged. This destruction has forced 8 million people from their homes. The same extreme weather phenomenon has also affected large swathes of India, Nepal and Myanmar too.

A ShelterBox Response Team is on the ground, working with the Bangladesh Red Cross and Rotary to help those who have lost everything in the catastrophic flooding.

Aid has arrived in the country and is being distributed, which includes shelter kits, tarps, blankets, mosquito nets and solar lights to support 3000 families.

A Rohingya Family’s Story

Jimmy Griffith (pictured), a ShelterBox response volunteer from New Zealand, talks through a translator to Guljar and her family about the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar. It has been an arduous journey, carrying a baby, and just boiled rice for food. They have fled violence, but are far from secure.


Guljar is forty years old. A widow for five years, she is bringing up her two daughters aged 15 & 12, and her son aged 9, alone. Her 15 year old daughter has a baby, just 18 months old.

In Myanmar they had a home and a small farm with a few animals. Life was good for them. Until they became increasingly concerned for their own safety, and felt they should leave.

Guljar is talking to ShelterBox’s Jimmy Griffith, in the overcramped mud bowl that is now her family’s sanctuary in Bangladesh. She and her family are among half a million Rohingya who have fled in fear across the border to Bangladesh. ShelterBox, experts in emergency shelter and international disaster relief, are working with what has been described as a ‘monumental’ influx of desperate and exhausted people.

Guljar tells Jimmy, ‘We decided to leave. At midnight we cooked up all the rice we had along with some pickle. We left in the early hours of the morning under the cover of darkness.’

‘We headed for the mountains. We couldn’t take the roads as we knew this could lead to trouble.’ Guljar explained that travelling in large groups of 20,000 to 30,000 gave them safety in numbers. ‘If you were in a small group you would probably be attacked.’

It took them three days of trudging, carrying a small child, for this family of five to scale the mountain. This is open wild country, and there were no tracks to follow.

Guljar notes the kindness of strangers.

As we were running out of food, other people supported us if they could, and as we passed houses some of these people would help as well. We found a place in the river where we could cross that wasn’t too deep.

After spending days and nights out in the open they arrived at one of the Bangladesh camps that have sprung up in the Cox’s Bazar region. Guljar, her girls, son and grand-daughter were given a small 3m by 5m plot of land by the Bangladesh government. They were also given flimsy black plastic sheeting, bamboo poles and rope so they could make a shelter.

‘We are so grateful for everything we are given. Unfortunately there are no trees around which makes it very hot under the black plastic (it can be 90+ degrees in the sun). Also when it rains they leak.’

Most of these plots are on terraces above rice paddy fields. When it rains the ground turns to ankle-deep mud, so families stay inside their shelters, cramped and very hot. Everyone is worried because the cyclone season is coming soon, which threatens both the flimsy shelters and the terraces they are pitched on.

ShelterBox is working with a cluster of other non-governmental organizations on a coordinated aid program, but the numbers needing help are challenging, and at times overwhelming. We have an experienced team in Cox’s Bazar working hard with local Rotary contacts and partners to help as many vulnerable families as possible. These families left their homes with nothing and we know that they desperately need shelter, lighting, and water.

Tarpaulins and ropes will help shelter families from the heavy rain and harsh sun, blankets will bring comfort and warmth at night, solar lights will help families feel a little safer in the dark, and water carriers will help keep water clean. ShelterBox has just signed its first agreement to import sufficient of these to support 4,000 Rohingya households.

Jimmy Griffith says, ‘Our tarpaulins and fixings are heavy-duty, and have been used in the worst weather conditions in all climates. But our resources and manpower are stretched, with ShelterBox responses continuing elsewhere in Bangladesh after vast floods, in the Caribbean after the hurricanes, and in Africa, Syria and Iraq with continuing conflict. So I’m grateful to all our generous supporters worldwide.’

As I look around and I see thousands of shelters everywhere – just imagine, if I was to take my home town of  just 60,000 people, and times it by ten, and just put everybody together in a small space with no toilets or running water. Also add in extreme heat and rain which causes more hardship. Now you have a ticking time bomb for disease. Now you can imagine some of the challenges we face in the Rohingya camps.

Previous Bangladesh Responses


In early June 2009, 200 ShelterBoxes were sent to Bangladesh to give emergency shelter to those affected by Cyclone Aila which hit the south of the country on May 25th. According to reports at the time, more than 200 people were killed and 60,000 made homeless by the disaster. The boxes were distributed around the towns of Shyanmagar and Munshigaon which are close to the border with India.


Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh with 150mph winds creating a 15ft storm surge that overwhelmed coastal defenses. Around 900,000 homes were damaged and 560,000 destroyed by the cyclone.

Special Response Team member Mark Pearson said: “The situation is a mess. Huge trees have come down on houses and are all over the place. It’s going to take a good six months to clear everything up.” ShelterBox volunteer John Baddeley said: “We’re just glad to get these boxes here and get them out to the families that need them.”