The Rohingya Crisis in Bangladesh: Still Left in the Dark

A recent information needs assessment conducted by Internews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh demonstrates that, while important steps are taking place to address the need for information for affected communities, refugees are still left in the dark, and more needs to be done. The assessment was conducted in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal area of Bangladesh that is host to a large refugee camp.

As of November 2017, Bangladesh hosts more than 820,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and this number continues to increase daily. Before the current crisis began, the country was already hosting a verified population of well over 200,000 Rohingya – and likely many more. Bangladesh was also coping with pressing needs and challenges of its own. The new arrivals have added massive pressure to services in existing refugee camps and in makeshift settlements. Basic services are badly outstripped, including water, health, and particularly shelter and sanitation. Conditions in the settlements and camps are now so critical that disease outbreaks are a looming prospect.

In a crisis of the magnitude currently seen in Cox’s Bazar and Northern Rakhine, two-way communication networks – the information ecosystem – fill a vital, lifesaving function.

Lack of information, misinformation, and outright propaganda, have driven the conflict, raising tensions on all sides, stoking rumours, emboldening extremist elements, and enabling an environment of impunity. The Rohingya community in particular is remarkably vulnerable to this risk.

There are no accessible media in the Rohingya language, leaving the Rohingya population of well over a million, now spread between Myanmar and Bangladesh, reliant on information only available in languages other than their own. Trust levels in Burmese and Rakhine language outlets are, unsurprisingly, extremely low. Even before the onset of this current crisis, the information landscape for the region’s Rohingya population was desperately bleak. With widespread trauma and massive displacement added to the mix, the challenges are extreme.

From the October 17 to November 17, 2017, the Internews team in Bangladesh, comprised of the Asia Humanitarian Advisor and the Internews Bangladesh Country Representative, conducted an Information Needs Assessment in Cox’s Bazar, surveying approximately 570 people in both Rohingya refugee and host communities. World Food Programme (WFP) contributed to this report with the support of the Emergency Telecommunication Sector’s (ETS) Services for Communities Adviser, who collated data from various sources to provide information about the telecommunications landscape.

The results of this assessment make it clear that there are profound communications gaps for crisis-affected communities in Cox’s Bazar. More than three quarters (77%) of the affected population feel that they do not have enough information to make good decisions, and almost two-thirds (62%) report that they are unable to communicate with aid providers. This, despite some notable efforts made by humanitarian agencies to create Information Hubs and feedback mechanisms to serve this purpose.

The goal of this report is to help build a more robust and accountable response to the information needs of the affected populations in Cox’s Bazar.

Read the full report: Information Needs Assessment: Cox’s Bazar – Bangladesh

The Need for Information in Humanitarian Crises

In humanitarian emergencies, the right information can mean the difference between life and death. Affected communities need information about how to access vital aid services, seek safety, or reconnect with family members. Without trusted sources of accurate, timely, and consistent information, rumors and misinformation can exacerbate the crisis, leading people to make poor decisions, or make them vulnerable to violence, extortion, trafficking, rape, and radicalization by violent extremist organizations. Humanitarians and local authorities need information too. Without significant input and constant feedback from crisis-affected communities, a humanitarian response will inevitably lack efficiency, and ultimately effectiveness.

In 2008, a BBC World Service Trust policy briefing argued that people affected by earthquakes, floods or other emergencies often lacked the information they needed to survive and that this only added to their stress and anxiety. Left in the Dark: the Unmet Need for Information in Humanitarian Emergencies maintained that humanitarian agencies were increasingly effective and coordinated in getting food, water, shelter and medical help to people affected by disasters, but were neglecting the need to get life-saving information to them.

In 2012, the BBC World Service Trust published another policy briefing called Still Left in the Dark? The paper argued that “the seismic shift in communication generated by increased access to communications technology is changing the world in which humanitarians work. However, the steps humanitarian responders are taking to improve communications are insufficient, largely because this first requires changes in perspective and in organizational commitment and resourcing.”

Internews in Bangladesh is currently looking for funds to support an emergency response project in Cox’s Bazar with the intention to support affected communities to receive the information they need to make better informed decisions. Please donate today.