The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is serving hot meals today to 2,200 refugees affected by a large fire that damaged or destroyed at least 500 shelters in Camp 16 of the Kutupalong refugee settlement.
In the immediate aftermath of the blaze last night, WFP and its national NGO partner Resource Integration Centre (RIC) distributed fortified biscuits to 328 families (approximately 1,600 people) who had lost their homes or cooking equipment, reads a press release.
Starting today (10 January), WFP will distribute hot meals twice daily to all the families left with no means to cook until shelters and cooking equipment, including cooking gas, can be restored. Families will then be reintegrated into WFP's regular food assistance programme.
"We are deeply saddened to see the extent of the devastation in Camp 16," said Sheila Grudem, WFP's senior emergency coordinator and head of office in Cox's Bazar.
"Thanks to the partnerships we have with national organizations, UN agencies, retailers, and local restaurants, we fortunately have the capacity to provide immediate relief to those who have lost everything, and we have all our hands on deck to do so," Grudem added.
As in the March 2021 fires, WFP is also making its suite of digital beneficiary management systems available to humanitarian partners to support the coordination of the delivery of non-food items, such as cooking gas, especially to those refugees who have lost their documents in the fire, added the statement.
Volunteers from WFP and the inter-agency Site Maintenance Engineering Project (SMEP) are also deployed in the field to support the clearance of debris.
WFP's regular food assistance in Cox's Bazar provides every refugee family in the camps with an electronic voucher ("e-voucher"), topped up with a monthly allowance of $12 per person per month.
Refugees can purchase their preferred foods directly from a network of 22 outlets in the camps managed by Bangladeshi retailers. No WFP site was damaged by the fire, which will allow affected families to return to the outlets as soon as they have the means to cook.
Cox's Bazar is the largest refugee settlement in the world, home to almost 900,000 refugees. In a dense mesh of bamboo and tarpaulin shelters, fires are one of many hazards adding to the extreme vulnerability of refugees, reads the press release.
In March 2021, 10,000 homes burned down and at least 45,000 people were displaced. Heavy monsoon floods in July 2021 affected 46,000 refugees and caused devastating landslides.