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Connected Learning Internship: Accessibility and Inclusivity in Disaster Studies | Opening up the Conversation

By Joshua Anthony, on 5 May 2021

Authors: Eleanor King and Fran Kurlansky

 

In a world where our lives are increasingly digitilised, and there is increased awareness about curating accessible spaces and ensuring optimum representation of all people, taking on an internship working on facilitating accessibility and inclusivity was very important. This is even more crucial in a year filled with challenges created by the pandemic. Covid-19 has challenged educational providers to further enhance online learning, making it imperative for content to accommodate all learners, regardless of their identity and additional requirements.

Image 1: Photo ‘Studying’ by rhodesj on Flickr, creative commons license

For two months across December-January, we reviewed the content of postgraduate modules taught at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR): the Conflict Humanitarianism and Disaster Risk Reduction module, and the Gender, Disaster and Conflict module. This was part of an Arena Centre Connected Learning internship supervised by Dr Jessica Field and Dr Virginie Le Masson in IRDR. We were equipped with the UCL Inclusive Curriculum Healthcheck and the Accessibility and the Internet document, both of which provided a solid foundation from which to scrutinise and assess the  content of our assigned modules.

Improving Accessibility: Definition and Challenges

An institution providing digital accessibility means ensuring that documents and online platforms can be accessed by all students regardless of additional learning requirements. Features that all documents and online platforms should have inbuilt—but unfortunately often do not—include: tags to allow users to navigate through text and images; alt-text, so that readers with visual impairments can use a screen-reader to have images conveyed to them in detail and in context; and resizing text and implementing the appropriate contrast ratio between text and background. From a technical point of view, conducting accessibility checks was a challenging aspect of the internship. Whilst utilising the resources, including advice from IRDR PhD students who had completed accessibility tasks on other modules, and becoming familiar with the functions of Adobe Acrobat, for instance, the process of making content accessible can vary between documents.

A prominent issue was creating image descriptions (alt-text), especially if the document was image-heavy. Some images, such as “word clouds”, graphs, and tables, are very detailed and contain a lot of written information, so condensing high quantities of information into captions proved to be virtually impossible. Another issue faced was knowing whether edits, colours, and some images were simply aesthetic and could be removed, or functional and so important to retain. Not being the original creator of module documents (such as PowerPoints) made these decisions difficult, as context is often needed. These elements can place pressure on someone carrying out accessibility checks, as we found, not being experts in the field of Disaster Studies.

These were important challenges to face, however, in generating discourse about why accessibility and inclusivity work is important. While we were essentially working backwards, trying to unpick major flaws in documents that were not designed to be accessed by someone with additional requirements, it made the need for educating staff on accessibility requirements even greater.

The Importance of Accessibility in an Academic Environment

Currently, information about accessibility is disseminated among staff. Yet a problem can arise when that information is not made a priority for all staff at all times. Awareness of not only how to implement checks and corrections, but why they are necessary, must be prioritised by departments and the university, and a better system of providing accessible digital education needs to be explored. This way, staff can make digital teaching materials accessible prior to a module beginning, thus, making a more accessible learning environment for students to enter into. A deeper understanding of the need for inclusivity and accessibility is imperative if there is going to be a culture shift which then provides a safer educational experience for all students.

Enhancing Inclusivity: Definition

Working within the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, it was also crucial to explore, using an intersectional framework, the inclusivity of the module content which we worked on. A term first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality provides a framework through which to understand how people’s different social characteristics—such as race, gender, or class—“intersect” to create complex oppressions. The framework is most commonly applied to feminist theory, highlighting that, for example, a middle-class white cisgender woman does not face the same oppression as a working-class Transgender Black woman, even though they both face misogyny.

Making Academia more Inclusive

In an IRDR teaching context, this requires an awareness of the effect of disasters on people of all races, genders, and classes, as well as ensuring the voices of those individuals are platformed. Rather than having a week on “women” or a week on “LGBTQIA+” within the module, a holistic approach to people’s complex identities and the way these impact their experience of disasters is not only a more inclusive approach, but it also provides a more thorough analysis.

Crucially, the UCL Inclusive Curriculum Healthcheck spotlights the ‘attainment gap’ (the discrepancy of achievement between students of different backgrounds). It notes how, through making a curriculum that greater encompasses the student body—that is, going further than celebrating diversity and actually creating modules that students can relate to—the gap can continue to reduce in size. There is a direct correlation between representation and achievement.

Image 2: UCL Curriculum Healthcheck cover & p.1.

Evaluating how both IRDR modules incorporated the stories of people from different cultures, ethnicities, genders and sexualities was imperative to ensuring that, as required in the Healthcheck, they captured a multitude of experiences, fostered inclusivity and ensured that content was reflective of the diversity of student experience.  In addition, checking that both modules facilitated the students’ sharing of their own stories and perspectives in a safe digital space would help to ensure that the students could voice issues in a supportive environment.

We were able to build on these analytical skills through conducting a critical appraisal of a guest lecture by Dr Virginie Le Masson on Gender-based Violence and Disasters. Utilising both the accessibility and the inclusivity elements of the internship, and working closely with Dr Le Masson, we delivered feedback from the perspective of students, and were able to draw on our own experiences as students navigating online learning to create further considerations for lecturers to take. For example, when presenting information about the experience of women in disaster situations, we advised it was also important to analyse the experience of trans men who felt they had also been victims of misogyny when coded by others as women.

Inclusivity was an important element of the internship, and this task exemplified this; we conversed with IRDR staff about how to deliver feedback in a constructive manner, how to cater to the diversity of the student body, and creating good support systems for both students and staff. It was a unique opportunity for a dialogue between students and lecturers, and meant that we were able to work in a collaborative way to create the best learning experience for all.

Learning from Experience: Holistic and Methodical Approaches

Having completed the internship, there are several things for us to consider in retrospect and to recommend for future practice. For the department and the university as a whole, we would advise that an important element of digital accessibility and inclusivity work is planning and time-management. For anyone assigned with making documents more accessible and inclusive, it is important to start working on these tasks sooner rather than later, experimenting with how much time you allocate a task and at what part of the day you work best until you find a rhythm that fits your individual work style. For example, the assignment may seem daunting in the beginning and could require some practice and further research. In this case, you may find that approaching it in twenty-minute slots to be more manageable. On the other hand, larger chunks of time may be more suitable if you find yourself wanting to complete a document’s alt-text in one session, for instance.

It is particularly imperative to work in a holistic manner. As accessibility and inclusivity work can be detail-orientated, the module leader or convener should keep the bigger picture in mind which helps to assess the content as a whole. This is particularly important in modules with lots of guest lecturers. Whilst each guest lecturer may include content written by women, it could be that each lecturer has predominantly platformed cisgender women, and the voices of trans women and genderqueer individuals are marginalized. Being methodical is key here, as is approaching the task sooner rather than later or retrospectively.

Working in a finite internship affected our experience of the work. 35 hours in two months is not a lot of time in relation to the tasks we were required to work on. What is most important in this internship are the skills we learned, understanding the root problems and what can be done to solve these—in this case: increasing provisions for technical literacy and a deeper understanding of what accessibility and inclusivity are, and why they need to be made more visible on a widespread scale.

 

Eleanor King is a postgraduate student at the Institute of Education, studying for her MA in Digital Media: Critical Studies. She is currently working on her dissertation on the dissemination of misinformation through social media. Email address: eleanor.king20@ucl.ac.uk.

Fran Kurlansky is a postgraduate student, studying for her MA in Jewish Studies. She is also working for UCL Human Resources as a Digital Accessibility Assistant. Email address: francesca.kurlansky.20@ucl.ac.uk.

Stop The Disaster! IRDR Spring Academy 2021

By Joshua Anthony, on 28 April 2021

This article is a summation of points and questions raised by members of the Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at the 2021 Spring Academy.

The mid-afternoon sunshine passes through my east-facing window and strikes my laptop screen, where the faces of the Institute for Disaster for Risk Reduction shine back at me. It is not mid-afternoon for all: for some, they gather for the annual Spring Academy as the same sun straddles a different horizon. Due to coronavirus restrictions, we gather online, tuning in from around the globe, demonstrating the department’s widespread influence. Through activities organised by both the PhD students and research staff, we are here to engage with the diverse range of expertise in our department.

What can floods tell us about covid-19? Can the unsettling rise of water on the doorsteps of schools and hospitals inform the decisions we make during a pandemic? Using the UNDRR game, Stop the Disaster, as an illustrative tool, Qiushuang Shi and Rob Davis lead us through the process of emergency planning and management to answer these questions.

While some of us struggle to allocate funding for flood defences and deliberate over where to build the hospital in our virtual disaster village, one cannot help noticing the people that populate the little green boxes of grass next to the blue pixels of seawater. How would they respond to an early warning system, and would it work if it were a virus and not flood water knocking at their door?

A snapshot of the UNDRR game Stop the Disaster.

Once the unfortunate villagers are subject to the 8-bit flood water, Rob and Qiushuang move us on to discuss what we have learnt. There is a consensus between us that communication is vital to affect successful disaster risk reduction—across all hazards. No early warning system or public health advice it worth it if the information is not widespread and consistent and the risks properly conveyed; or if there are significant economic, cultural, political or societal conditions—such as gender structures—that inhibit this process or adherence to it. Prior knowledge and experience of a hazard within a society (or lack thereof) is likely to alter the perception of, trust, and response to the message, not to mention the political will to support and fund emergency resources and planning initiatives, which could be assisted by media initiatives.

The visceral threat of quick onset hazards may put the screws on emergency fund release at showtime, but what of slower hazards for which there is ample time to plan? For some in the world, climate change is a distant reality, while for others it is an immediate threat. Uncertainty plays a key role in the way we respond to hazards—in scientific calculations (such as for early warning systems) or in individual perceptions and acceptance of risk.

We can see that, though the propagation and imagery of flood water and coronavirus—or any hazard, for that matter—may differ, there is an unavoidable factor underlying the multitude of research topics across the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction’s members: vulnerability. Indeed, the most contrarian of us posit that one could approach disaster risk reduction entirely from a vulnerability perspective. This notion hangs in the balance. We move on to the next stage of the session: multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios

There are places unfortunate enough to be subject to multi-hazard events. Even now, as we live through COVID-19, one member notes, the HIV and AIDs epidemic that gained notoriety in the 1980s still affects millions of people. As we have seen over the past year, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, disease outbreaks—you-name-it—do not rest for each other, and all the while the climate still changes. Mitigation, preparedness and response procedure efforts must consider multi-hazard scenarios, and not be subject to a “flavour-of-the-month” approach to disaster risk reduction. Critical infrastructure may be pliable up to a point and break beyond that threshold. Existing and dormant vulnerabilities may be triggered under cascading disaster scenarios—otherwise interpreted as cascading vulnerabilities—as seen in the infamous triple-front attack on Tohoku in 2011, which manifested in a combination of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown. The complexities of multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios are vast; one must look for interconnected and parallel vulnerabilities that transect all hazards in order to tackle the challenges. The importance of transdisciplinary research and collaboration of individual expertise are highlighted further by these situations.

Even when two hazards do not strike in unison, emergency planners must consider the impacts of a prior hazard on material and human resources for the next one. Under a changing climate, goalposts shift; resource allocation and size may change, funding options may have to be reconsidered. An example of a way to make use of existing resources in a multi-hazard scenario is suggested in adapting training facilities for one type of hazard to accommodate multiple. As we consider the way planning and management needs are altered in response to multi-hazard and cascading scenarios, one asks a question that should follow all disasters: has the learning come through? In other words, are we more or less resilient now we have experienced the crisis? This is a question one can imagine asking as we optimistically search for a light at the end of the tunnel after over a year of COVID. The darkness associated with the proverbial tunnel is often oversimplified to a period of turmoil before the promise of the light, but one overlooks its poignancy in portraying the struggle that one experiences while operating within the shadow of uncertainty.

As we close the session, the faces of IRDR, hailing from a wide array of different disciplines, stare back expectedly at me for a summary of the session proceedings. Well, here they are. However, it’s made evident—as I scrabble to collate my mish-mash of notes—that one voice solely is not enough to tackle the challenges we attempt to understand here at the IRDR.

Happy (mostly) Faces of IRDR

WHO Classification for Emergency Medical Teams: A Step in the Wrong Direction?

By Navonel Glick, on 20 April 2021

National/international medical professionals working together at a clinic in Ormoc, Philippines – a model that is no longer allowed by the current WHO EMT guidelines. Photo Credit: Boaz Arad/IsraAID (2013)

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and galvanised the international community. Organisations, like the American Red Cross, sent full-scale field hospitals. Others, like IsraAID, despatched medical personnel and supplies, providing surge capacity to local clinics.

Integrating external resources into existing healthcare systems is an effective strategy, with potential long-term benefits. Yet, while such activities may be a model for integrating disaster risk reduction into response, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines do not permit them.

The WHO classification system was created to counter the variation “in capacities, competencies and adherence to professional ethics” amongst Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs). Each of the three approved EMT types must operate independently and be self-sufficient for 2–4 weeks. This emphasis on independence avoids ‘burdening’ affected populations, but it leaves no room for interventions to support national/local healthcare institutions.

In fact, the WHO’s 91-page document outlining EMT minimum standards contains no reference to existing healthcare systems, let alone strategies for cooperation. This omission perpetuates the myth that ‘helpless’ disaster-affected people need international organisations to ‘save them’, instead of recognising that disaster response is often locally driven. Further, EMTs acting alone face avoidable linguistic, cultural, and logistic obstacles that hamper the quality of care provided. Setting up alternative healthcare locations, pathways, and practices may also sow confusion, thus increasing long-term vulnerability by undermining trust in the healthcare system.

Efforts to standardise EMTs and rout out malpractice and disaster tourism are welcome. But the WHO guidelines sadly disregard successful integrated models, like IsraAID’s, instead promoting foreign intervention over local capacity and prevention. If only the WHO abided by their own Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management framework.

Space health and disaster risk reduction

By Myles Harris, on 12 April 2021

There is an association between remote environments and health due to limited resources and accessibility to healthcare services. Thus, people who live in a remote environment have disproportionate health inequalities in comparison to those in an urban location [1]. While it is predicted global urbanisation is set to increase during the 21st century, approximately 3.1 – 3.3 billion people will still be living in a remote environment between the years 2015 and 2050, such as the remote mountain community in Figure 1 [2]. With this in mind, remote health is an important topic of research.

Figure 1 Remote mountain community

Providing healthcare in the remotest environment outer space may seem worlds away from healthcare on Earth; however, limited resources and accessibility are threads that tie remote health and space health together. For example, a minor injury or illness can rapidly become a major event if the available resources do not meet the needs of the patient, and there are limited opportunities for rapid (aero)medical evacuation should the patient’s condition deteriorate [3]. With this in mind, healthcare practitioners must provide prolonged care in the field (prehospitally) and sustainably use the resources available to them; this approach to clinical practice can be described as prolonged field care (PFC) [4,5].

It is important to note that when providing PFC in a remote environment or outer space, healthcare providers (doctors, nurses or allied health professionals) are required to meet all holistic care needs of the patient, despite being trained to specialise in one area of medicine or health. Telemedicine may offer remote consultation with specialist members of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, but this is a vulnerable dependency on internet or satellite connection, which is often unreliable due to the topography or distance from connected locations (such as Mars). There is limited literature on interdisciplinary healthcare practice, therefore, patients and practitioners are exposed to heuristically developing remote or space health practice and human error. This is a social vulnerability that increases the risk of disaster (physical or psychological deterioration of patient’s health) in environments where resources and accessibility are already limited [6].

UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster (IRDR), Space Health Risks Research Group, is a multidisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners who are investigating how the mitigation of risks to health in space can contribute to promoting good health and well-being in remote environments on Earth. On 01st September 2021, IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group will be hosting a symposium on ‘space health and disaster risk reduction’, in collaboration with industry partners and Universities of Manchester, Bristol and King’s College London. The symposium is funded by UCL Grand Challenges and booking details will be released here: https://tinyurl.com/spacehealthrisks.

The symposium will be a theoretical exploration of how interdisciplinary healthcare practice during deep space missions to explore other planetary bodies (Figure 2) can inform disaster risk reduction and remote health system on Earth, including how to promote good health and well-being. The aim is to establish a multidisciplinary consensus on the provision of prolonged, holistic healthcare (PFC) for an interdisciplinary healthcare practitioner. An underlying objective of the symposium is to identify where consensus is not achieved, thus highlighting research gaps for future systematic enquiry. The symposium is open to all healthcare providers, including those on a professional register and qualified first aiders.

Figure 2 EVA exploration of the Lunar surface

During the symposium, attendees will participate in breakout rooms with the following themes:

  • Space medicine
  • Global health (and public health)
  • Medicine, nursing and allied health (military and civilian)
  • Anthropology (biosocial, medical and data science)
  • Disaster sciences

Informal discussions will take place in the breakout rooms about how each discipline (the breakout room theme) can contribute to interdisciplinary healthcare practice during the exploration of another planetary body and when in a remote environment on Earth. Each breakout room will be facilitated by affiliate or associate members of IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group, and attendees will be invited to (anonymously) share their thoughts via an online Microsoft Form for each breakout room they participate in. The symposium will take place in-person at UCL Institute for Advanced Studies (lite refreshments provided) and online to enable world-wise participation.

Cultural engagement and perception of health differs hugely around the world, hence understanding how the perception of good health and well-being may change in space has relevance for remote health on Earth. Thus, the notions of future healthcare during deep space missions and on other planetary bodies brings into question the meaning of health, relative to remote environments. Therefore, exploring future healthcare practices and cultural engagement of health in space, through the lenses of healthcare, anthropology and disaster science, is a significant area of interest that has benefit to society. The findings of this symposium will contribute to the knowledge of interdisciplinary healthcare practice in space, and to reducing health inequalities for people in remote environments on Earth by informing remote health systems, policy and training.

12th April is the UN International Day of Human Space Flight, which celebrates the first human flight in space by Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and 2021 is the 60th anniversary of the famous space flight [7]. In the UN General Assembly 2011 resolution about the International Day of Human Space Flight, “the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples,” is reaffirmed [8]. In this spirit, IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group are developing the first UK pilot analogue space mission (a simulated space mission), which will take place in Spring 2022.

Analogue space missions are an opportunity to conduct research in simulated outer space conditions [9]. There are many types of analogue missions and it is important to clearly define what aspect of space is being simulated for research impact. For the pilot analogue mission, the Lunar and Martian topography is being represented by the Cairngorm National Park mountains in Scotland, whereas the limited resources and accessibility during an extra-vehicular activity (EVA – spacewalk; Figure 2) are being simulated. Analogue astronauts will be evaluating the findings of the space health and disaster risk reduction symposium, critically appraising how their interdisciplinary clinical decision making was informed during three healthcare scenarios of the pilot analogue mission. The findings of the pilot analogue space mission will similarly inform remote health practice, policy and training on Earth; but, furthermore, it will lay the foundation for future high-fidelity analogue space mission research in the UK.

While space is a remote environment that begins 100km above our heads, remoteness is much closer than most people recognise. The recent COVID19 pandemic has created a temporary remote environment for many people, caused by self-isolation, physical distancing and transmission control precautions (Figure 3). However, the higher COVID19 transmission rates in areas with limited resources and accessibility to healthcare services exemplify the disproportionate health inequalities of people permanently living in remote environments [10]. Furthermore, perceptions of good health and well-being have changed, which echoes the concept of space health. IRDR Space Health Risks Research Group’s investigation of the interrelation between space health and disaster risk reduction aims to bridge these research gaps and contribute to remote health on Earth.

Figure 3 COVID-19 transmission control precautions

References

[1] Henning-Smith, C. (2020) The unique impact of COVID-19 on older adults in rural areas, Journal of Aging and Social Policy, 32, pp. 396-402.

[2] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2018) World Urbanization prospects. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/ [Accessed 01 March 2021].

[3] DeSoucy, E., Shackelford, S., Dubose, J., Zweben, S., Rush, S., Kotwalk, R., Montgomery, H. and Keenan, S. (2017) Review of 54 cases of prolonged field care, Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 17 (1), pp. 121-129.

[4] Keenan, S. (2015) Deconstructing the definition of prolonged field care, Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 15 (4), p. 125.

[5] Keenan, S. and Riesberg, J. (2017) Prolonged field care: beyond the “golden hour”, Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 28 (2), pp. 135-139.

[6] Ellis, P. (2019) What is evidence-based nursing?, in: Ellis, P. and Standing, M. (eds.) Evidence-based practice in nursing. 4th ed. London: SAGE Publishing Ltd.

[7] United Nations. (2021) International day of human space flight 12 April. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/human-spaceflight-day [Accessed 01 March 2021].

[8] United Nations. (2021) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 7 April 2011. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/528/80/PDF/N1052880.pdf?OpenElement [Accessed 01 March 2021].

[9] Groemer, G., Gruber, S., Uebermasser, S., Soucek, A., Lalla, E., Lousada, J., Sams, S., Seilora, N., Garnitschnig, S., Sattler, B. and Such, P. (2020) The AMADEE-18 Mars analog expedition in the Dhofar region of Oman, Astrobiology, 20, pp. 1276-1286.

[10] Behar, J., Liu, C., Kotzen, K., Tsutsui, K., Corino, V., Singh, J., Pimentel, M., Warrick, P., Zaunseder, S., Andreotti, F., Sebag, S., Kopanitsa, G., McSharry, P., Karlen, W., Karmaker, C. and Clifford, D. (2020) Remote health diagnosis and monitoring in the time of COVID-19,  Physiological Measurement, 41, article number 10TR01.

Using Fault data in seismic hazard and risk assessment: A fault2SHA initiative

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 22 March 2021

Effective fault data presentation helps make progress in the calculation of earthquake hazard and risk. 

Cross-disciplinary working can help progress. For calculating seismic hazard, the Fault2SHA Working Group has brought together data providers, modellers and seismic hazard and risk practitioners to help promote the use of fault data in seismic hazard assessment… Fault2SHA representing fault – to – seismic hazard assessment.

In the case of earthquake hazard and risk calculations, a key barrier to fault-based seismic hazard assessment has been the availability of data in a format that can be easily incorporated into calculations of hazard and risk. This has hindered efforts to provide long-term views of hazard and risk. Long-term, multi-millennia time frames cover several seismic cycles such that the long-term behaviour of faults can be identified and not miss out faults capable of hosting earthquakes which have not ruptured within a short-term observation periods (tens or hundreds of years). A further restriction has been the difficulty for modellers to interrogate the detail and uncertainties in primary data. To address these issues, the Fault2SHA Central Apennines laboratory, led by Dr Joanna Faure Walker (UCL IRDR), has created a database structure demonstrating a usable format by which geologists can present data that can be directly incorporated into hazard and risk calculations. To demonstrate its effectiveness, the laboratory has tested the database to calculate simplified calculations of risk in the Central Apennines and demonstrated the effectiveness, even at a simple level, for identifying which faults threaten the public the most and where additional data would have the most impact on current calculations. It is hoped those working in other regions can help the endeavour of promoting the use of faults in seismic hazard assessment through adopting a similar approach.

This work brings together researchers from different research groups in the UK, Italy and France: Joanna Faure Walker, Paolo Boncio, Bruno Pace, Gerald Roberts, Lucilla Benedetti, Oona Scotti, Francesco Visini, and Laura Peruzza

The two papers are published Scientific Data and Frontiers in Earth Science, while the database is available through PANGAEA.

Fault2SHA Central Apennines Database and structuring active fault data for seismic hazard assessment 

Which Fault Threatens Me Most? Bridging the Gap Between Geologic Data-Providers and Seismic Risk Practitioners

Fault2SHA Central Apennines Database

The Fault2SHA working group runs a monthly online learning series to help cross-disciplinary working and annual workshops.  The learning series and 2020 workshop is available through the Fault2SHA youtube channel. A summary of the database is provided by Joanna at 17 mins into the first session of the Fault2SHA 5th workshop:Promoting Faults in Seismic Hazard Assessment

 

Three IRDR affiliated papers in on Politics of Disaster Governance

By Eija Meriläinen, on 8 January 2021

The open-access journal Politics and Governance came recently out with a 21-paper special issue on Politics of Disaster Governance. The issue provides a wide selection of papers from an overlooked perspective, debating how the formal, the ‘real’ and the invisible governance all contribute to how disasters are addressed (see Hilhorst, Boersma & Raju, 2020). The special issue is also one testimony of the diversity of approaches and researchers at Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR). Altogether three papers and five researchers contributing to the special issue came from our community. In the following, the authors – appearing in the alphabetical order of their last names – introduce their own articles.

Hilhorst, D., Boersma, K., & Raju, E. (2020). Research on Politics of Disaster Risk Governance: Where Are We Headed? Politics and Governance, 8(4), 214–219. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3843 [editorial of the special issue]

Patrizia Duda, Ilan Kelman and Navonel Click (all IRDR) on their article “Informal Disaster Governance”

In disaster risk reduction and response, too often, local realities and non-formal influences are sidelined or ignored to the extent that disaster governance can be harmed through the efforts to impose formal and/or political structures. A contrasting narrative emphasises so-called bottom-up, local, and/or participatory approaches which we encapsulate as Informal Disaster Governance (IDG). We theorise IDG, situate it within disaster science, and consider its ‘dark sides’. By doing so, we establish the conceptual importance and balance of IDG vis-à-vis FDG, paving the way for a better understanding of the ‘complete’ picture of disaster governance. Empirically, we consider IDG in and for Svalbard in the Arctic, including its handling of the 2020 coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, to explore the merits and challenges with shifting the politics of disaster governance towards IDG.

Duda, P. I., Kelman, I., & Glick, N. (2020). Informal Disaster Governance. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 375–385. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3077

Jessica Field (IRDR) on her article “Caught between Paper Plans and Kashmir Politics: Disaster Governance in Ladakh, India”

This article argues that disaster governance must be considered relationally at a horizontal scale (i.e. relationally between two neighbouring areas) as well as vertically (i.e. a local area in relation to the national level) in order to appreciate the full range of pressures shaping an area’s disaster governance. Using the case study of Ladakh, India, I show how the politics of border security and conflict in neighbouring Kashmir have impacted — and often limited — Ladakh’s disaster governance aspirations. For instance, despite efforts to learn lessons from a cloud burst disaster in 2010, Ladakh remains without an effective Disaster Management Plan and experiences everyday setbacks in improving DRR, partly as a result of the Kashmir conflict’s impact on the economy, communications, and governance of the remote region.

Field, J. (2020). Caught between Paper Plans and Kashmir Politics: Disaster Governance in Ladakh, India. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 355–365. https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3143

Eija Meriläinen (IRDR) together with Jukka Mäkinen and Nikodemus Solitander on their article “Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti”

This article focuses on private actors involved in disaster governance, arguing that their roles and responsibilities have been insufficiently challenged. In particular, the article politicizes the entangled relations between non-profit organizations, liberal states, and disaster-affected people. To interrogate the justice of disaster governance arrangements, the article builds on a Rawlsian theoretical framework. Following the framework, liberal states have two types of responsibilities in disasters: humanitarian (domestically and abroad) and political (domestically). NPOS are shown to be instrumental in blurring the boundaries between humanitarian and political responsibilities. This might result ultimately in actual vulnerabilities remaining unaddressed.

Meriläinen, E., Mäkinen, J., & Solitander, N. (2020). Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti. Politics and Governance, 8(4), 331–342. http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3094

“There is no other option” – The rationalisation of the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar

By Bayes Ahmed, on 7 December 2020

Written by Dr Md. Touhidul Islam and Tanzina Rahman, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The 2017 Rohingya exodus made Bangladesh a host of more than 850,000 new Rohingyas, becoming the fifth-largest forced displacement in the world.  They were forced to leave their homes at the Rakhine State in Myanmar and were also confronted with crimes against humanity, atrocities, and genocide. The host community in Bangladesh responded with compassion by welcoming and supporting them. The scale of the influx, however, has made a profound impact on the hosting communities, largely in the greater Cox’s Bazar area. The two Upazilas, i.e., sub-districts, of Cox’s Bazar – Ukhia and Teknaf – had to withstand supporting most of the weight of accommodating the Rohingyas. Now, the Rohingyas outnumber the local population in these two areas. So, the humanitarian impulse to help soon turned out to be a life-changing event for many residents living in these communities. The needs of the Rohingyas were officially addressed by the Government in Bangladesh, local and international NGOs, donors, and several UN agencies. However, the spill-over impacts, e.g., environmental degradation, price-hike, decreased wages and strain in the relationship between the host community and the Rohingyas just began to draw attention.

For the host communities in Ukhia and Teknaf, the results of this massive exodus can be described as a change in everyday’s lifestyle at best and a threat to survival at worst. They have dealt with an array of challenges in the economic, environmental, socio-cultural, and institutional spheres of their lives. Concurrently, they have dealt with the alterations in their own ways. They did not only try switching to the next best option available in addressing the changes in their lives but also rationalised their course of actions. What was the logic behind this rationalisation? The need to adjust had come from a mindset of lacking a better alternative.

We went on a field trip in 2019 to collect micro-narratives from the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf. They vividly described the impacts of the 2017 Rohingya influx on their personal lives and how it affected their whole community. Some of their rationalisations are primarily centred on the notion of not having any other option than just to adjust – human life being equivalent to struggle and adaptation skills being a part of human nature. Having faith in one’s creator and surviving for the sake of one’s loved ones were other patterns of rationalisation that the residents described in their narratives. The notion of not having the availability of a better option and accommodate the situation can be an excruciating challenge for the residents, once their limit reaches the threshold.

Karim (a pseudonymous name), who is a 32-year-old driver and lives in Whykong, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, shared his version of life before and after the Rohingya influx. Though there were Rohingyas from the previous inflows, he did not know much about them before 2017 as they made no significant impact on his daily life. Once the unexpected turns of events such as drug dealings, theft, and robbery began to occur, he began feeling insecure. The impacts such as social deterioration (e.g. extramarital affairs and sexual harassment of girls) and cultural change were appalling to him. How did he come to terms with it? Karim says that there is nothing that he could do about it.

“We are a victim of this situation. We had to accept everything because we were under pressure. We have accepted all these as a part of our everyday lives. As long as the Rohingyas will live here, the problems will remain. So, instead of ignoring it, we have decided to deal with it.”

Karim has no real solution for other challenges he faces in every different dimension of life. He complains about the weather changing, and he acknowledges the animals being extinct. In light of all these changes, he sees himself as an ordinary person who is only capable of somehow adjusting to the situation which has been thrown upon them. People like Karim have subjugated to the physical changes in the environment and the socio-economic aspects like the price-hike of essential daily commodities.

A positive thought that he mentioned is co-existence, i.e., the acknowledgment of the host community and the Rohingya community living side by side. But making it a habit to adjust is crucial when there is no better alternative for them. Karim says: 

“Where can we go if we leave our village? We do not have any options to go anywhere. We are bound to accept these problems as long as they are living here. …They will not find a place to live in other districts outside Cox’s Bazar. They have found a place to live in Cox’s Bazar. I do not think there are any other empty places where they can be accommodated. It would not have been a problem if this was an issue for a few days. But, they have been living here for 2-3 years. Many Rohingyas have been living here for 30-40 years. And we have learned to adjust. I think we have to adjust if we live together. So it has become a habit to adjust to things. There is no other option.”

Karim has no other places to go if he leaves his village. He, however, reassures himself by saying the best option is to adjust to whatever living conditions they are being subjected to – a dark cloud of thoughts for the future hovers over him. He acknowledges the fact that the situation is likely to worsen. He narrates his thoughts on the future by saying:

“The current situation makes us think that the future will be very difficult. In the manner the prices of water, fuel, travel fare, and others are increasing this will be likely to continue in the future. We have to spend less on things sometimes, and sometimes we can spend as much as we like. We will have to manage according to what situation Allah puts us in.”

Karim perhaps knows where he stands on adapting to life after the Rohingya influx of 2017. For assisting the Rohingyas, his view is that plenty has been done and now it needs to stop. The dark future that he envisions does not always stay on his mind. He goes about his life, believing the future is unpredictable and anything can happen. Karim narrates his thoughts:

“Let everything go on like it is. We will see what happens later on. We will adjust to it when it happens.”

Karim chooses to adjust because he cannot find an alternative option not to. One may wonder if he will realise the flaws in his survival strategy!

Authors’ Affiliations:

Acknowledgment: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project,Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Mountains Matter

By Myles Harris, on 1 December 2020

Mountains are often described as harsh, desolate environments that few people choose to venture to. Yet since 2003, 11th December is the United Nations International Mountain Day. This raised the question, why do mountains warrant a day of recognition? Perhaps it is because 27% of the Earth’s land surface is mountainous, which is home to approximately 1.1 billion people and that more than half of the fresh water humankind is dependent on is from a mountain source [1]. With this in mind, it is clear mountains are integral to our life on Earth, but is there much life in the mountains?

Mountain range sunsetThe remoteness of mountain regions enable ecosystems to develop in isolation and the variety of micro-environments on each mountain (altitude, topography and weather) enrich the life that thrives there [2]. Despite low levels of oxygen, challenging terrain and exposure to extreme weather, the biodiversity of mountains includes mammals, birds, insects, not to mention unique plants, vegetation and crops, all of which is in balance with human life at ground level [3]. International Mountain Day is about celebrating the importance of mountains and this year the spotlight is on mountain biodiversity. However, International Mountain Day 2020 is also about creating awareness of how mountain biodiversity requires protection.

The impact of climate change and unsustainable living reaches even the remotest mountain environments and is causing significant damage to their ecosystems [4]. Physically, glaciers are melting and landslides are more common, which is contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The deterioration of biodiversity in the mountains has negative consequences for the life that has existed there for millennia and the local communities who depend on it. As a result, the United Nations sustainable development goal 15 (target 1) concentrates on the sustainable management and conservation of mountain biodiversity [5]. International strategy and cooperation is a positive step forward, but more research is needed to understand and inform disaster risk reduction for the protection of mountain biodiversity. A recent example is COVID19 – lockdowns were predicted to have positive effects on the climate; however, greenhouse gases have continued to rise [6] which accelerates biodiversity damage in the mountains.

Research of mountain-related phenomena can involve going into mountain environments and visiting communities who live there. Each mountain environment is unique, therefore a localised-approach to research reduces the risk of local communities and ecosystems being overlooked [7]. However, mountain conditions are dynamic and unpredictable. Providing healthcare to researchers and local communities in these circumstances is extremely challenging. Figure 1 is photo of a medical tent on an expedition in a remote region of the Nepalese Himalayas, with the Doctor (right) and Nurse (left) who provided healthcare to a team of 15 (including themselves). With limited resources and environmental challenges, healthcare providers require the capability of acute emergency interventions (if needed) and prolonged field care (healthcare).

A doctor and nurse standing on a mountain, with a medic-tent in the background.

Figure 1.

Prolonged field care is a newly recognised area of clinical practice and can be described as the provision of healthcare beyond expected duration and with limited resources to mitigate the risk of patient morbidity and mortality [8]. Military healthcare systems have been developing this concept during the past few years due to the paradigm shift in military deployment and healthcare provision [9]. However, civilian services are beginning to develop this area of practice too. Remote Area Risk International ® have developed a civilian prolonged field care course, which is relevant to expedition, wilderness and mountain medicine [10]. Training and research of prolonged field care contributes to disaster risk reduction in mountainous environments,which promotes the health of researchers and local communities.

It is clear that although mountains appear to be everlasting, the impact of climate change and unsustainable living is damaging. However, the protection of all mountains and their biodiversity, informed by valid and reliable research, will enhance their resilience and contribute to sustainable development for all. #MountainsMatter 

References

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2019) Mountains matter. [online]. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca6779en/ca6779en.pdf [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[2] United Nations. (2020) International mountain day 11 December. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/mountain-day [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[3] Mountain Partnership. (2015) Mountain biodiversity. [online]. London: Mountain Partnership. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/our-work/focusareas/biodiversity/en/ [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[4] World Meteorological Organization. (2019) Avoiding the impending crisis in mountain weather, climate, snow, ice and water: pathways to a sustainable global future. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/publications/publication-detail/en/c/1253730/ [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[5] United Nations. (2015) Protect, restore and remote sustainable se of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reserve land degradation and halt biodiversity loss: mountains. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/topics/mountains. [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[6] World Meteorological Organization. (2020) United in science 2020: a multi-organization high-level compilation of the latest climate science information. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[7] Mountain Research Initiative. (2018) Leaving no one in mountains behind: localising the SDGs for resilience of mountain people and ecosystems. [online]. Bern: Mountain Research Initiative. Available at: https://www.mountainresearchinitiative.org/images/MRI_Publications/Issue_Brief_Leaving_No_One_in_Mountains_Behind.pdf [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[8] Keenan, S. (2015) Deconstructing the definition of prolonged field care, Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 15 (4), p. 125.

[9] Smith, M. and Withnall, R. (2017) Developing prolonged field care for contingency operations, Trauma, 20 (2), pp. 108-112.

[10] Remote Area Risk International. (2020) Prolonged field care – welcome to the home of civilian PFC in the UK. [online]. Wirral: Remote Area Risk International. Available at: https://www.r2rinternational.com/prolongedfieldcareuk [Accessed 12 November 2020].

“Home is where the heart is!” – Rohingyas in camps and their idea of ‘Home’

By Bayes Ahmed, on 10 November 2020

Written by Dr Niloy Ranjan Biswas, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email: niloy@du.ac.bd

The perilous journey of Rohingya people fleeing their ‘home’ to Bangladesh, escaping persecution and genocide by Myanmar’s security forces, was full of quandary and uncertainty. They endured severe sufferings and pain in this journey to find safety and a new home. The brutal crackdown in 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingyas to leave their homes and embark upon a hazardous journey to neighbouring Bangladesh. According to Human Rights Watch (2017) report, the journey to Bangladesh was met with hunger, exhaustion and death. Crossing rivers, walking up and down steep and slippery hills across dense vegetation during monsoon rains with sore hips and swollen legs made it extremely challenging to survive. Furthermore, the Myanmar soldiers sexually assaulted Rohingya women and on many occasions raped them while they were fleeing to Bangladesh. Many of them had to continue their journey through the jungle with swollen and torn genitals. Many of them even gave birth on the road without medical assistance or proper medications.

Rohingyas’ journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh took up seventeen days. The route included either crossing the Naf River or taking a boat in the Bay of Bengal along the coast from the Myanmar shores. The desperate journey to find safety did not end for Rohingyas once they crossed the border of Bangladesh as they were stranded in the rice fields and marshlands and continued their journey to refugee camps cordoned by the security forces. For Rohingyas, arriving in Bangladesh after leaving behind their homes in Myanmar was just one part of their long journey. Their journey to escape trauma and horror in Myanmar has been juxtaposed with the misery of searching for a new home. What are ‘home’ and ‘homeland’ for Rohingyas? ‘Home’ has multiple interpretations for them.

The author visited the camps in 2019 to conduct extensive fieldwork in order to collect stories of Rohingya men and women. Those micro-narratives identify multivariate patterns of violence and trends of protection experienced by the refugees. It suggests that there is strong evidence of structural violence inherent in the society of Myanmar. Some of these examples are restrictions on movement and no access to health and education in Myanmar. The idea of accountability and justice are completely non-existent in the discourse of Rohingyas in Myanmar, which may need to be highlighted further as an important source of violence.

Hasina (a pseudonymous name), a 25-year old Rohingya woman, lives in a camp, near Thaingkhali, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar. She was revisiting memories of her home in Myanmar and sharing her narratives with the author. She remembers her home in childhood as a quiet peaceful place. They could move out and roam around freely. She remembered they lived peacefully with Rakhaines (Buddhist communities) as neighbours. They used to get justice from representatives of local government. Her brother’s friend was a local government chairman from the Rakhine community, whose younger brother stole fruits from Hasina’s backyard and destroyed the field. Hasina’s father protested and complained to the chairman. He warned his own brother and apologised on his behalf. This was her impression of home when she was asked to share her childhood memory. Hasina said, “Home was peaceful, and everyone was living in harmony”. What has changed now?

Hasina was submerged under vivid memories—how her homeland, her village and adjacent areas turned into mayhem. She says that she was not able to study in Myanmar and will never get a good job. They will always live like their older generations —uneducated and unemployed.

In my home, we had no rights but we loved our home as we were born in that place.

Home is arguably the house and its surroundings, which is shared by her family and neighbours—both Rohingyas and Rakhaines. Has the ‘country’ ever turned into a ‘homeland’ for Hasina? Rakhaines are the significant ‘others’, and they dishonoured Rohingyas. Hasina says that they had to pay to get what they are entitled to get as citizens of Myanmar. Authorities do not like a Rohingya, who disobeyed their instructions, s/he would have to pay a monetary fine, or get beaten by uniformed security forces, or at least they would take ducks, chickens, cows, and goats. Prayers, Azan, and Madrasa—religious practices were also closed. Those who worked were barred from doing their work and even from leaving the house. According to Hasina, the security forces would go from home to home and torture and oppress women. No one could protest. They gradually began to inflict too much torture. They oppressed them in front of everyone, took their babies, or injure them and even burn them.

Her recent memories are full of bloodshed and loss. In August 2017, Hasina’s cousin (Bilkis) was raped by Myanmar’s security forces. Her parents were tied up and seven people raped Bilkis. “They were laughing and making fun of us as we are not human”—Hasina shared her experience with the author. Later Bilkis was shot dead and her body was fed to dogs. The girl left a child. The attackers set Hasina’s younger brother on fire. Hasina says that although she was not physically tortured, her relatives were severely tortured. She says they came to Bangladesh after suffering a lot.

Home is an existence of hardship and plight for Hasina. They faced violence every day in Myanmar. Her husband primarily worked in agriculture. He was beaten many times by the security forces for no reason. Once they had changed the fence of their house without informing local authorities, the security forces raided their house, beat them and asked for money. They took away their chickens, cows, and goats. “Hundreds of women were tortured by the military, their fathers, brothers, husbands could do nothing and everyone remained silent. No one could protest. “The family members could not save anyone and had to witness this by their own eyes. In Myanmar, the lives of Rohingyas are like the “lives of ants and lives have no value to the state”.

Home is where one can sleep peacefully. Hasina says, now in camps in Ukhia, she can sleep at night without worry or fear. “There is no fear such in Myanmar and I do not experience nightmares here”, she says. They are very safe in the camps of Bangladesh. Her children can go to school and mosques for prayer. “We are no longer slaves in Bangladesh as we were in our homeland”, says Hasina.

Home is where security forces do not scare Hasina every day. In the initial days at the camp, Hasina was scared to see members of security forces. It reminded her of her own country’s security forces and their behaviour. Later she realised that Bangladeshi security forces were actually providing them with safety and security. Camps were more like homes when security providers are not violators of human rights. Hasina repeatedly mentioned that if the military of her homeland behaved well, they would not have to worry about their lives.

Can Hasina return to her ‘home’ in Buthidaung, Maungdaw? She says her heart breaks into pieces when she thinks about her home in Buthidaung. Home is where she can trust people around her. She lacks trusts in her neighbours and local authorities in Myanmar. She rather trusts the people of Bangladesh who have been providing support in refugee camps. Hasina cheerfully acknowledges that she is happy to see her children playing, studying and going to the mosques without risking their lives. Hasina says she feels very good in camp’s plastic house as she knows none is coming after their lives. For her, a home is where she is not afraid of oppression and torture.

Hasina knows Myanmar is her country, nevertheless, she doubts whether or not it has ever been her ‘homeland’. They will eventually return to find their homes in ashes, if and when repatriation takes place. A big question, however, which was reflected in her face—has it ever become a home for her and her family? It seems she has lost her belief in Myanmar—its administration and security forces. Unlike Pliny the Elder suggests “Home is where one is most emotionally attached”, Hasina observes: “I lost faith in my country. I do not know where is my home and what will we do in future?” Her emotions are tormented that she will never have the same ‘home’ back in her ‘homeland’.

Acknowledgement: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project, “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

“Orphan Friendly Space” – The Rohingya Children in Refugee Camps

By Bayes Ahmed, on 1 November 2020

Written by Professor Amena Mohsin and Mohammad Atique Rahman, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), I am in a safe place now, I miss my parents but I have survived” – Mohammad Ismail (pseudonymous), a Rohingya child living in Camp-13, Thangkhali Refugee Camp, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

It is an irony and a point of critical reflection for all of us as part of the so-called global society and humanity, as to why we need to create spaces designated as “orphan-friendly-space”, and children who have been orphaned [1] by state terrorism and genocidal acts in its quest for building a ‘nation’ find safety and security in those spaces and zones. The brutalities of our global and national systems have left little options for them. “Home sweet home,” a proverb that we grow up with, or the concept of “home” is lost for many children. Mohammad Ismail, a child who lives in a Ukhia Refugee Camp, spends most of his time in an orphan friendly space. He is one among the thousands of the ‘orphaned’ Rohingya children, who comes and plays with other orphan children in the Health Management Bangladesh (HMBD)’s, a local humanitarian NGO, “Orphan-Friendly-Space”. He was twelve years old in 2019. According to him, he spends most of his time there with other Rohingya children as he finds it a safe and secure space. 

Fear haunts him as he lost both of his parents during the August 2017 genocide, that was committed against his community in the Rakhine state. More than 712,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar during that period and took shelter in Bangladesh. Over half of them were children [2]. According to a report published by Save the Children, the speed and scale of violence that caused this mass exodus of the Rohingya were unprecedented since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 [3]. The report also mentioned that Rohingya children were the worst victim of this violence as they were targeted for brutal sexual violence, killed and maimed indiscriminately in Myanmar [5].  In the most severe cases, many of them witnessed brutal killings of their own parents.  

Ismail made friends in the orphan friendly space. Plastic toys and footballs scattered around the area that came as part of donations and relief for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. While playing in the area, he narrated his story. He was living with his parents in Udong village. They were five siblings. His father was a farmer. They had a farming land around 10 Kanis (a Bengali measurement of land, 1 Kani = 1,619 square feet). His father and elder brothers were also fishing in the Dariya (Naf river). They raised cattle and chose one to sacrifice on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha. According to Ismail, it was two days before the Eid festival, his family and the villagers were taking preparation for the Eid celebration. At that time, they heard rumours that the neighbouring village got attacked by the local Buddhist Mogh community and the Myanmar military/Tatmadaw. Rohingya villagers started to move in search of safe places. Ismail got scared hearing this conversation among the elders but his father assured him saying that “no worries, you are in a safe place, Ismail, I will protect you”. However, his father could not keep his promise. The Mogh along with the military stormed into his village with firearms and sharp weapons on the day before the Eid. They hurriedly separated elders and young males and took them to the military camp. Ismail’s father was also taken away. Since then, he has not seen him. He is believed to have been killed by the Myanmar military in 2017. On that day, Ismail was terrified. His father was forcibly taken away from their home. As narrated by him:

“The Moghs were dragging my father, they had big red eyes, it seemed like that they were going to chop us all. I was afraid of dying. My mother held me and my younger brother very tightly and said I am here, don’t be scared you will be safe.”

However, his safe place existed only for a half-day as by the evening the villagers realised that their village will be attacked again by the military to take away the women and girls. Ismail’s mother decided to move her family to a safe place and joined the group of villagers with his uncles’ family. They started moving up in the hilly areas as they thought there would be a safer place for them but at night bullets came from the military check post, that fired aimlessly here and there. Ismail’s group members also got bullet wounds on that night. His uncle and mother decided to walk straight up the hill, and reached a “Muslim County” in Bangladesh, he went on saying:   

“We kept walking for three days straight. We joined around 2 to 3 hundred thousand Rohingya who also wanted to reach Bangladesh. When we cooked, the Army could suspect and find us from afar. They came and searched our bags and belongings. They took away the money, the jewellery. And then they went away. When we were on our way, they did not beat us as they normally did. But those who spoke out against them talked back at them – they were beaten. After three days we reached the harbour. My mother and uncle planned to cross the river and reach Bangladesh. On the night of 29 August 2017 when we got into a boat, we heard the sound of firing at night. I barely saw anything but heard the cries of wounded people. Our villagers urged the boatman to help them in crossing the river. My mother got shot on that night and she drowned into the river while she was trying to protect us from the firing. We lost 10 villagers on that night. On the next morning, we stopped at Shyamlapur. We climbed through North Nangkhongchhari (Naikkhongchhari) to reach Bangladesh. We stayed in Shyamlapur for five days under the open sky. Then we moved to Ledamma. There we stayed for 1 month and 5 to 10 days. Our days were even harder in Ledamma. After one month and a half of reaching Bangladesh, we got our space in the camp. In Bangladesh, I started to feel safe, but I had lost my parents in Myanmar. I don’t think there was any Rohingya left in our village in Myanmar.”

In Bangladesh, the local people supported them and gave them clothes, food and shelter. They had no belongings when they came to the camp in Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar). According to Ismail, Mizan Sir, the HMBD programme coordinator, looked after them very well. They did not know anything about this new place, but the HMBD kept in touch with them and provided them with some medicines. Ismail added:

We had nothing to do the whole day in the beginning. I had no books, no toys and no friends. So I went to HMBD’s place to see what was happening there. There they gave me some toys to play with other children. I was so happy to find some friends. I also feel safe with my friends. The driver uncle (HMBD ambulance driver) gives us chocolate every day. I know some of my friends also lost their parents on the other side of the Dariya (Naf river). Here in this place, we play and also attend the class. Our teacher Solim who has also come with us from Myanmar is so kind to us. Arif Sir and Mizan Sir from HMBD, they were so kind. They built fences around this playground. I feel safe now.”

Similar to Ismail, many other children in the orphan-friendly-space built by HMBD in Ukhia lost either their parents or their family members. But somehow, they seemed to have accepted their reality though it is cruel and full of uncertainties. They feel safe about their lives, but there is constant uncertainty, fear and confusion. They fear to be sent back to Myanmar though they want to go back to their homes. They used to go to the local Maktab, a religious school, and play with their friends. In the camp area, they live in cramped rooms. It is difficult to stay together in a small makeshift shelter in the camp so Ismail and other children come to the HMBD place every day in search of open space. According to them, the camp area is very hot. There is hardly any ventilation.

Most of the camp’s shelter houses are built on the slopes of hills by clearing forests and trees. There is hardly any tree shed in the camp where one can take rest during the hot summer days. So, these children look forward to coming to the open space where they can rest, play, study and pass their time together. This space is open from 8 am to 4 pm. Fatima (pseudonymous name), another Rohingya child, mentioned that she eagerly waits for the next morning to come to this place and be with her friends for a day. She does not want to stay in the camp, but then she needs to help her aunt with whom she lives now in cooking and fetching drinking water.  She has been orphaned in the genocide. Ismail also desires to get a new bag, books and a pair of sandals as the ones provided to him in 2017 are getting old. 

Mr Mizan, the programme officer of HMBD, said that they were the first NGO to arrive in this camp to provide medical treatment to the Rohingya community. They were able to set up their office in the early stage, they had some open space after establishing their medical camps. They thought that this open space could be converted into a children playground who were already in a distressed state. Therefore, Mizan and his team, when they visited door-to-door shelters of the camp, asked the families to send their children to their playground. In the mid-2018, HMBD decided to build a small shed for these children where they could sit and read books. By December 2018, it appointed Mr Solim, a Rohingya teacher, to teach the children. He teaches them Math, English and Religion in Rohingya language. HMBD managed to obtain free books with contents developed in Rohingya language. Currently, it hosts around ninety Rohingya children. 

However, more initiatives to be undertaken to create spaces for children for their mental and physical wellness. It is notable that among the Rohingya refugees, 55% are children and 4% of the household are child-headed. Children who eagerly wait for their time in the orphan-friendly-space have fractured lives. They lost their parents and homes in Myanmar. The big red eyes that Ismail was talking about will perhaps haunt him all his life. One may wonder if the eyes were actually red, or Ismail imagined them to be so out of his fearful state. He also remembers that the Rohingyas wanted to reach the Muslim country, a sense of belonging or kinship or affinity was sought in the Muslimness or religious affinity. Ismail’s assertion that the Buddhist Moghs were with the military attacked their village also speaks volumes of religion being played out in Myanmar politics, and it is penetrating into young minds.

One can only hope that the world will stop creating refugees and orphans, where the space of orphan-friendly-space will become their most cherished space and perhaps in the mental domain the most treasured memory to hold on. This is one of the cruellest fate that a child deserves. Let us strive to move beyond this politics of power and dream of a world where a child will have a home, a sweet home!

Authors Affiliations

References

[1] According to the latest study from UNICEF (done by the end of 2018) [retrieved from UNICEF’s April 2020’s report],  there exists a total number of 13 million child refugees, approximately one million asylum-seeking children and an estimated 17 million IDP children displaced within their own country by violence and conflict, United Nations Children’s Fund, Child displacement, April 2020, https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-migration-and-displacement/displacement/, accessed 19 October 2020.

[2]  A total of 36,673 orphaned children are now living in the 12 Rohingya camps under Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas of Cox’s Bazar, according to a government survey, Tarek Mahmud, “36,673 orphaned children living in Rohingya camps”, Dhaka Tribune, 9 November 2017, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/11/09/36673-orphaned-children-living-rohingya-camps, accessed 19 October 2020.

[3] The Daily Star. Exodus greater than Rwanda genocide. https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/exodus-greater-rwanda-genocide-1702837; accessed 31 October 2020.

[4] One out of two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence. There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar. (As per August 2018 data), Save the Children, Alarming Number of Rohingya Children Orphaned by Brutal Violence – Save the Children Study, https://www.savethechildren.org/us/about-us/media-and-news/2018-press-releases/alarming-number-rohingya-children-orphaned-brutal-violence, accessed 19 October 2020.

Acknowledgement: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project, “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).