Coronavirus has spread throughout Bangladesh, and the refugee and host communities in Ukhia and Teknaf are in a vulnerable situation amid this outbreak. In such situation, hygiene and cleanliness are of utmost importance, and Zhinu Bala, a host community member and waste management worker, is advocating for that and raising awareness on COVID-19, along with 25 other workers in Teknaf Municipality.

“I know, waste collection during highly infectious pandemic is very risky, but I took that risk to stop the spread of this deadly virus in my municipality and community. ‘Stay home’ is not for me, but I know UNDP is beside me to ensure my safely while I am working as a waste cleaner. I learned from UNDP about Coronavirus prevention and awareness. Now when I go to work I maintain physical distance, and wash my hands frequently, to protect myself from the virus. I have also received PPE, hand sanitizer and other necessary gears from UNDP. If I am safe, I can make others safe.”

Like Zhinu Bala, 725 waste cleaners have been created up to now under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Sustainable Solutions to Solid Waste project is ensuring proper waste management in the camps and surrounding areas and contain the spread of diseases.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) funded project is being implemented by UNDP in partnership with BRAC and Practical Action in all refugee camps and adjacent host communities.

At Teknaf municipality, the project is piloting house-to-house waste collection in 1,000 houses and 1,000 market shops. Women who were in vulnerable positions are now supporting the municipality in keeping the streets clean, which is proving highly useful in containing the spread of diseases including Covid-19. As they are part of the community themselves, they are also able to spread awareness through word of mouth.

“Before the pandemic, handwashing regularly was not a common habit, but after learning about the ways of keeping the virus at bay, my children and I are washing hands at regular intervals. This is a good practice, and very easy to do using the handwashing stations that have been set up, so I encourage everyone in my community to maintain this basic hygiene practice,” said Zhinu Bala.

UNDP SWM project has also installed 15 communal handwashing stations in Teknaf. Zhinu Bala and her colleagues refill the water tank at handwashing points and motivates people to wash their hands with soap and safe water. She also requests people to avoid large gatherings, handshakes and hugging.

At the refugee camps, UNDP is conducting a cleaning campaign in 27 refugee camps in Ukhiya Upazila. This makes up about eighty per cent of the total refugee camps, with a population of 716,351 individuals and 331,531 families. This initiative has not only helped make the camps cleaner and more livable, but it also generated 752 livelihood opportunities through “cash for work”.

Rohingya people have been trained and equipped to keep the camps clean in order to reduce risk of severe environmental damage and prevent the blockage of drains before the rainy season arrives. Their work is instrumental in ensuring hygiene in the camps and contain the spread of coronavirus.

The project has now been incorporated into the COVID-19 response. The project has a contingency plan of reaching 2,558 households with BDT 3,500 cash for food support. It is also distributing hygiene kits to 3753 households, 3,317 shop owners and 300 local recycling dealers. The plan includes installing 75 additional handwashing stations in the next 3 months in host communities.

So far, cleaning in 12 camps have been completed, benefiting 506,446 individuals and 111,790 families. As a result, a total of 2,918 cubic metres of waste have been removed.

“This is a war against a virus, and everyone has a responsibility to fight against this invisible enemy. While collecting waste, I am also spreading the message of staying home and following the instructions. I strongly believe together we will win this fight sooner or later. “

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