SINGAPORE — The Republic’s first batch of humanitarian supplies including tents, blankets, food and medical items worth about S$270,000 has arrived for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
A Republic of Singapore Air Force KC-135R aircraft transporting the supplies flew off at 8am to Chittagong, Bangladesh, on Tuesday (Oct 10). Aid group Mercy Relief is working with local partners in Bangladesh to distribute the aid, it said in a statement.
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Mohamad Maliki Osman witnessed the handover of supplies to the local authority in Chittagong, and a second delivery is slated for Wednesday.
With women identified as among the most vulnerable groups in the overpopulated evacuation camps, the team will be distributing “dignity kits” – comprising the orna (traditional scarf), sanitary napkins and soap – to them on top of the relief items.
Solar lamps are also provided to “increase a sense of security” for those sleeping out in the open, while tents distributed can “provide a private space for girls and nursing mothers,” said Ms Zhang Tingjun, executive director of Mercy Relief, who travelled to Chittagong. “With women and children making up a majority of those displaced by the conflict, there is an urgent need to prioritise their safety,” she added.
On the ground, people have been queuing up for long periods and carrying relief goods over a distance in unfavourable weather conditions, said Ms Carol Liew, head of international programmes at Mercy Relief, who is part of the response team in Bangladesh. Shelters, which are made of light materials, may be vulnerable to natural disasters like cyclones, given that the area is situated in a coastal area on the Bay of Bengal.
While there is “ample aid” at the moment, she said longer-term solutions such as income opportunities for communities to help themselves are needed. So are schools, medical facilities and play spaces, given that there are about seven to 10 children in each household.
Organisations will also need to address the mental wellness of the survivors. “If (mental wellness) is left unaddressed, there could be a longer term impact. This is especially so for the children, many of whom have not had the opportunity to speak up about their ordeal,” said Ms Liew.
Separately, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) said in a release on Monday that a team is currently in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to assess needs of the affected communities and to help with relief distribution.
Working alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it will distribute US$30,000 (S$40,700) worth of relief items.
SRC said it plans to deploy medical, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene teams to assist with the relief efforts at the camps. It has been providing humanitarian assistance in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012.
“The large wave of population movement has resulted in a critical humanitarian emergency in the Cox’s Bazar area, with the communities facing issues like overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient first aid, medical assistance, clean water and food,” said SRC secretary general and chief executive Benjamin William. The challenges are “likely to persist” for an extended period of time, he said.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan had said in a written parliamentary reply in early October that the Singapore government would be offering humanitarian aid to both Myanmar and Bangladesh.
For Myanmar, the Singapore Government will be offering an aid package worth about S$100,000, while it will send two loads of humanitarian supplies worth about S$200,000 to Bangladesh.
Pointing to how “there are no quick fixes”, Dr Balakrishnan said: “The immediate task at hand is for all the parties involved to cease actions that will further worsen the situation on the ground, so that humanitarian assistance can reach those desperately in need regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation.”
He added: “We urge the restoration of peace, stability and the rule of law in the Rakhine State.”