Social distancing is a crucial aspect in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But that poses challenges to the flow of key information during a time when being well-informed also is critical to public health.
Which is where bicycles and rickshaws come in.
In Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continues to explore new ways to bring key messaging to Rohingya and host community members throughout the district. Initiatives like messaging via rickshaw and IOM’s Interactive Voice Response system are making huge strides in ensuring the public is kept informed.
However, gaps remain where phone and road access are limited.
To amplify key messaging and ensure that no one is left without access to lifesaving information, IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) unit in Cox’s Bazar began delivering information throughout the Rohingya settlements by bicycle.
In line with the 2030 Agenda and the United Nations “green recovery” recommendations to encourage a culture of cycling, IOM is supporting Rohingya participants to use bicycles procured and painted locally to ride throughout pre-identified sections of the camp. Thye cyclists use megaphones to deliver pre-recorded messages to each area.
The initiative is conducted by Rohingya refugees, for Rohingya refugees, and has already reached approximately 67,000 beneficiaries across the camp. Scaled-up messaging will continue as COVID-19 numbers rise. As of 10 June 2020, 37 Rohingya refugees had tested positive for the virus.
“I am so happy to play a role in my community by providing information around the camp during such a serious time,” said Mohammed Hasan, a Rohingya cyclist participating in the programme. “Because of this, I can now lead my family with an income from the work.”
Message content ranges from key COVID-19 information to general mental health and psychosocial support information, and is recorded in English, Rohingya and Bangla with support from Bengal Creative Media and Translators Without Borders.
The messages are stored on USB drives, so that information may be easily adapted to varying conditions where restrictions limit vehicle movement throughout the camp.
While rickshaw messaging follows a similar approach, the Rohingya cyclist initiative provides alternative communication that is environmentally friendly and contributes to the health and livelihood of local cyclists. The initiative also increases economic sustainability, as the total cost of one bicycle is comparable to a four-day rickshaw rental fee.
“Globally, we face an unprecedented challenge. As COVID-19 numbers rise inside the camp, new challenging dimensions add to an already complex situation. At IOM, we are adapting our response using sustainable methods to serve the most vulnerable and ensure that no one is left behind,” said Kenny Rasool, MHPSS Capacity Building Liaison Officer at IOM Cox’s Bazar.