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COVID-19 looms over refugee camps where water scarcity is commonplace

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  • COVID-19 looms over refugee camps where water scarcity is commonplace

With the coronavirus spreading across the world, millions of people living in refugee camps are preparing for the arrival of the pandemic, reports Circle of Blue.

Camps hosting displaced people are among the communities least equipped to deal with the coronavirus, where the crowded conditions mean social distancing is nearly impossible, soap and water are scarce, and there’s little medical care.

The first case of COVID-19 in the Greek island of Lesbos was confirmed earlier this month, raising fears of a potential outbreak in the Moria refugee camp, home to some 20,000 people living in dire conditions. In some areas only one tap is available to provide water for 1,300 people. Also, some refugees already suffer from health issues, including respiratory problems. The Guardian spoke to Dr. Hana Pospisilova, volunteering in Lesbos: ‘If you read about Spanish flu it was exactly like this that it began to spread, in overcrowded facilities where people had a viral infection that became a bacterial infection that killed them’.

And that grim picture is just a drop in the bucket: as many as 70 million people are estimated to be displaced, living in refugee camps, across the world.

Another source of vulnerability is the lack of information, although aid organisations are working to provide advice on preventing disease spread, but some populations are not easy to reach and rumors are common. In Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, with nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees who escaped from conflict in Myanmar, people interviewed by VOA generally were aware about the importance of handwashing but were otherwise not well informed.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Emergency Management is collaborating with aid organisations to address the lack of supplies and information in refugees camps. Even though proactive measures are being taken, there and elsewhere, living conditions in camps and the fact that many are in countries with precarious health systems come together as a formula for disaster. If rich nations are struggling with the consequences of the pandemic, in refugee camps those consequences could be devastating.

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