View of hilly refugee camp
© arche noVa

Bangladesh: Emergency aid in the largest refugee camp in the world


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Catastrophic conditions prevail in the largest camp for Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh, Kutupalong. The displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar lack everything: infrastructure, water, food, fuel and much more. arche noVa works together with OBAT Helpers to improve the living conditions of the people.
Simple World Map - Author: Al MacDonald Editor: Fritz Lekschas License: CC BY-SA 3.0 ID: ISO 3166-1 or "_[a-zA-Z]" if an ISO code is not available

The mass expulsion of the Rohingyas from Myanmar began at the end of August 2017. Entire villages were burned down. People were persecuted and threatened. Around 670,000 people from the ethnic minority fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where 300,000 had already sought shelter. Most of them live on the hills of Camp Kutupalong, the most densely populated refugee camp in the world. They are dependent on humanitarian aid.

Deep wells are drilled

In the hastily erected Kutupalong fast help was needed, especially concerning the drinking water demand. Wells were built, but they were almost always too shallow. Some of them soon threatened to dry out or collapse. The greatest danger to drinking water comes from the toilets that are often built nearby. The wastewater pollutes the upper aquifers that feed the wells or flows directly into the wells. Heavy rainfall in particular therefore leads to contamination of drinking water with germs and pathogens. Without an alternative, the wells are nevertheless heavily frequented. What triggers further problems: The groundwater level in Kutupalong has already dropped sharply and many of the wells have dried. arche noVa is therefore replacing some of the first well solutions with deep wells. Four were built in 2018. They supply around 3,000 camp residents.  Further solar-powered deep wells are to follow. Accompanying this is hygiene training to counteract emerging diseases.

Deforestation as a big problem

Kutupalong was rushed out of the ground. Where there used to be forest, there are now simple huts. For their construction and the daily need for firewood, the people cleared the hills in and around the camp and even dug up the roots. In the meantime, the forests around the camp have also disappeared. People hope that the sandy soil will last. But during the extreme rains during the monsoon season, large parts of the land turn into mudslides that can carry the huts away and bury them.

Simple plants to stabilize soil

To protect the soil from mudslides and erosion, arche noVa promotes the cultivation of fast-growing, deep-rooted plants. The grass we choose is very resistant and stabilizes the soil, as the comparatively thick roots can grow up to 13 metres long. They last even during monsoons. In addition, the plant is very inexpensive and therefore efficient. 200 plants fill an area of 150 football pitches. The plan is to sow and plant 250,000 plants on 2.76 square kilometres. This will make it possible to stabilise three camp areas in which around 16,000 families live.
In addition, there are fast-growing plants for the extraction of firewood as well as fruit and moringa trees to improve the nutritional situation. Together with our local partner organization, we are planting around 1,300 trees, including papaya cuttings. The Moringas cuttings are first sown in small tree nurseries and left to grow for six to eight weeks, after which they are transported to the camp and planted there. All participants receive training in the cultivation, care and use of Moringa. The tree grows up to four meters per year, all parts of the plant are usable, extremely nutritious and also serve medical purposes. In addition, we distribute additional seed packages to 650 families. This allows them to grow tomatoes, winter vegetables, spinach and aubergines and improve their nutritional situation.

Inefficient stoves burden everyday life

Another focus of our activities is on the energy supply of refugee families. The camp administration distributes kerosene to several families for cooking. But the rations are not enough because the stoves heat very inefficiently. According to a survey by our local partner organization, around 90 percent of the families need additional firewood. This is the job of the girls and women, who now have to walk up to eight kilometres to get it. They are exposed to a high risk of becoming victims of sexual or physical violence, but attacks by wild animals such as elephants are also not uncommon. Every day, four football fields around the camp are cleared, but more than half of the families suffer from a lack of fuel. Anything they can find ends up in inefficient stoves that produce large amounts of harmful smoke. A real haze bell lies over Kutupalong, which affects around 90 percent of the residents.

Efficient stoves to save fuel

Despite the distribution of kerosene, most people in the camp cook on an open fire. Only a few have stoves, which are also extremely inefficient. That's why vast quantities of firewood are consumed. This places an extreme burden on the air we breathe and increases the risk of fire enormously.
arche noVa is therefore pushing ahead with the improvement of energy utilisation in the camp. As part of the project, locally trained bricklayers are building energy-efficient and safe stoves from locally available materials. Such stoves are called Bondhu Chula. They prepare food in a fraction of the time and fuel otherwise used and are also significantly safer. Not only wood, but also dried manure and thin branches can be used as fuel.
Every family that cooks in this way can noticeably reduce their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This helps them and the environment. In two camp sections 650 of these stoves will be built. In addition, people will be trained to build these stoves themselves in the future. All participants will also receive training in healthy nutrition and hygiene.

Donate for this project

for a Moringa tree that improves the nutritional situation of a family
for 10 of the plants to stabilize a total of 150 football pitches land
for an efficient and safe stove for a family

Project Overview


Improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the Kutupalong-Balukhali Camp

Target Group

Approx. 42,000 families in Kutupalong - Balukhali Expansion site Camp

  • Construction of 650 energy-efficient stoves
  • Functional, construction and nutrition trainings
  • Construction of solar-powered deep wells
  • hygiene trainings
  • Planting of hillside stabilizing plants, fruit trees and Moringa trees, as well as distribution of vegetable seed sets (upgrading the nutritional situation)



since spring 2018
Co-operation partners

OBAT Helpers

  • private donors

  • Aktion Deutschland Hilft
Dana Ritzmann
Dana Ritzmann
Head of Communications and Press Relations
+49 351 481984-16
dana.ritzmann [at]