Canadian geophysicists hunt for fresh water in Rohingya camp as reservoirs dwindle
Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017 10:10PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 9, 2017 5:26AM EST
In one of the world’s largest refugee camps, a team of Canadian geophysicists is scanning the ground in hopes of finding a reliable source of clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya refugees before the dwindling reservoir runs dry.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since an outbreak of violence that human rights officials have condemned as ethnic cleansing.
Many Rohingyas have ended up at Kutupalong refugee camp near the Myanmar border. But the camp’s few water sources are under pressure, and with the region’s dry season already underway, there are fears that the remaining reservoirs could soon evaporate.
The ideal solution: a steady spring of groundwater deep enough to avoid contamination from the latrines and widespread sewage at the ground level.
That’s precisely what Calgary-based geophysicist Paul Bauman and his team are searching for.
“Clearly these people need it -- desperately need it,” Bauman told CTV News. “Without this, it’s not a possibility that typhoid and cholera and dysentery disease will break out. It’s for sure it will happen.”
Using hundreds of metres of electrical wires, the team has weaved a web of cables across the camp. Electrical current is then pumped through the wires and into the ground, giving the scientists a snapshot of what’s hidden below.
The process, called electrical resistivity tomography, produces an image similar to an X-ray up to a depth of 120 metres, which the team uses to piece together a subterranean map of the camp.
The deeper the well, the safer the water. Open defecation has become a problem throughout the camp, and shallow wells are more prone to contamination. Bauman’s team hopes to find aquifers deep enough to avoid the problem altogether.
According to Oxfam, 58 million litres of water are needed daily for the Rohingya people, and new sources are required immediately. At the moment, 300,000 people still need access to clean drinking water.
The refugees also need 25,000 toilets, through finding space for the facilities is a challenge, the organization said.
Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, said the federal government must pay close attention to helping the situation at the camps.
“Canada's efforts need to focus on ensuring the camps in Bangladesh meet the needs of people for security, food, shelter, health, education, and this will require much intense work and investment,” the former Ontario premier said Wednesday.
Rae added that Canada must work in tandem with the United Nations, Myanmar and Bangladesh to “ensure the right of the Rohingya people to safe return to their homes with the assurance of full political, economic and social rights.”
Despite the language barrier, geophysicist Colin Miazga said the reaction from the refugees in Kutupalong has been overwhelmingly warm.
“Their eyes just light up and they kind of shake your hand and you can really tell that they’re honestly absolutely grateful for what we’re doing here,” Miazga said.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian in the Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh