Social distancing is simply not a choice for the one million Rohingya refugees who live in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh. Bamboo shacks, common toilets and scarcity of water make it impossible for the stateless population to maintain social distancing protocols that help curb the spread of coronavirus.
When you don't have proper space or enough soap or water for washing your hands regularly, social distancing is a far cry.
The very fabric of the camp is forcing the refugees to come in close contact with each other. Where tube well is the primary source of water, space constraints make people stand in long queues to get the water. Overcrowded living spaces could barely "flatten the curve" for the camp's inhabitants.
The United Nations (UN) and other humanitarian agencies have raced to open new facilities in Cox's Bazar, but equipment is still extremely limited and it is feared that medical centres could be quickly overwhelmed. As of June 28, 49 cases of Covid-19 and five deaths due to the virus has been recorded in the camp.
The Guardian reported that in the 34 Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, for every 13 people, the living space is as small as a tennis court.
Abul Kalam, an inhabitant of the camp, lives in a four-room space with his family. Here, diseases spread easily. Two weeks ago, his wife began to suffer from fever and flu-like symptoms. Now, his three-year-old son and his three daughters are sick as well.
"I'm worried but I don't tell them," Kalam told The Guardian. "I'm the head of the family and I don't want to frighten them."
Families live in huts made of tarpaulin and bamboo. In some cases, up to ten people sleep in one room - a move contradictory to social distancing practices. Bathing facilities are also very limited. On an average, there is only one shower cubicle for 21 people.
Fear of getting infected seems more provoking than the disease itself among the Rohingya community. The refugees fear they will be forcefully quarantined if they test positive for Covid-19. Many people choose not to go to the clinic even if they potentially contract the virus. Moreover, there is no such separated room for absolute isolation for any covid-19 patient inside the camps.
When living spaces become the very reason for the spread of coronavirus, the solution could not get any more complicated.
On a positive note, the coronavirus infection rate has been relatively lower inside the camp- despite having a huge population in a congested environment. the government's timely response and joint efforts with the United Nations (UN) and other partners led to a slim rate of covid-19 infection and death.
Limited movements- inside and outside of the camp- helped prevent coronavirus to spread at an alarming rate.