In a number of sprawling camps located outside the City of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, almost a million refugees live in makeshift huts on precarious barren slopes. They are ethnic Rohingya who fled the religious and ethnic persecution they experienced in nearby Burma.
The picture above suggests the physical vulnerability faced by the refugees, including the risk of mudslides and slope failure during the heavy monsoon rains or tropical cyclones that visit Bangladesh every year. Intersecting with these physical conditions are the socio-political vulnerabilities that compound the risk from extreme events:
-Absence of Legal Status
-No land tenure, no employment
-Cultural Isolation, language differences
-Emotional and physical trauma from persecution and brutality
NGO and international agency workers will attest that many refugees feel completely powerless, brutalized, and isolated. They have all lost their homes and find it hard to imagine a future. In such a situation, being prepared for risks (such as extreme weather events that we know will occur) is an overwhelming challenge. Of the numerous problems faced by the Rohingya, our work in risk communication is only able to address a small part of it. But nevertheless, it is crucial work. But how one approaches risk communication needs to fit the unique, overwhelming challenges faced in Bangladesh.
The overall philosophy remains that of empowerment. People are not simply receivers of knowledge, they need to be part of community that creates knowledge, communicates it, and acts on it. But when people feel so powerless, part of the approach has to be restoring a person's belief that she can act on her situation. The strategy involves much of the same approach we used elsewhere but tailored to the situation:
-Relational Approach: Messages are done in everyday language, as if delivered face-to-face.
-Democratizing Risk Communication: Community members are not just recipients; they are risk communicators as well.
-Translation: Participants train in interpreting official bulletins and translating them to everyday language.
-Action Research: Workshops involve some aspects of doing; not just learning but also taking even a small action now.