There was a freak snow storm in the Sahara last week, the surreal images creating a flurry on the internet. On the other side, Sydney is experiencing the hottest summer on record. At home, a severe cold wave is sweeping over northern Bangladesh.
Almost each day these days, I wake up and make my way to the makeshift camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, the site of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis of recent times. Life in these settlements is brutal- I see the struggles of the women, men and children who have recently arrived, most exhausted and traumatised.
From a bird’s-eye-view, if one were to look at the vast settlements where people from Rakhine state of Myanmar are currently residing, they would see many pink dots purposefully moving about. This rush of pink are BRAC’s women humanitarian workers delivering life-saving services, specifically to women and girls who make up more than half of the 589,000 people who have come to Bangladesh since 25 August.
A boy and a girl tussle over a bowl. It looks similar to one he lost in the crowd, and he needs one if he wants to get the food that is being served. The girl too realises that she will have to starve for the day if she lets the bowl go. She holds on with all her strength and cries out in frustration, and eventually walks away, clutching it tightly in her small arms.
An estimated 507,000 people are now living on the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar, and more than half of them are children. Most of them have arrived with zero possessions, apart from the clothes they wore while making the long and dangerous journey.
Nine-year-old Amin plays with a rhino and a horse in a land of make believe. It has been a week since he arrived in Bangladesh with his family. Their route took them through the sea for two days and across deep valleys and thick jungle for another three days.
In the coming years, countries and communities will bear the brunt of climate change. Future projections of the rise in temperature and sea level along with increase in natural disasters are feared. However, we tend to forget that it is the future generation who will have to live through these consequences. It is widely asserted that the poor, in particular children, will be most affected – greater physical exposure to natural hazards and increased risks of health being two of the main reasons.
Kabir Mollah was pulled out from under the remains of Rana Plaza four days after the collapse. Now every time he goes into a high-rise building, he gets anxious. Shiuli Khanom was also rescued after four days. “Even though I survived, I felt hopeless,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep. I had so many thoughts and worries. I was shaken and afraid and also physically weak.”
Shukla Pal is one of many shasthya kormis (health workers) of BRAC who received organisational training to serve her community against the risks of natural disaster. A head of the household, a mother and a grandmother, almost 60 years of age, she knows the importance of standard first aid practices required to attend casualties amongst her fellow villagers.
Whether it is the globally mourned celebrity deaths like that of Robin Williams’, or the shocking Rana Plaza tragedy occurring close to heart, recent news at both home and abroad have sparked global conversations on the importance of prioritising mental health at multiple forefronts. BRAC, a global leader in tackling poverty through social development, has been quick to jump in on the bandwagon.