THE Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of the UK’s largest humanitarian charities, provides life-saving aid to stricken populations in Yemen, East Africa and to those fleeing conflict in Myanmar.

Scottish donors have committed more than £10 million to provide shelter, water and sanitation, food and medicines to these communities devastated by drought and conflict in 2017.

Zia Choudhury, originally from Glasgow is now the Country Director in Bangladesh for CARE, one of the DEC member agencies.

He has spent recent months leading the effort on the Bangladesh border to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who have been forced out of their homes in the Rakhine state in Myanmar.

Here he provides his first-person account of how Scottish generosity is making a life-saving difference.

"Over the past few weeks much of the noise around Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh has centred around a possible repatriation deal between the two countries and what that might mean for the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes in Myanmar.

But for these refugees a safe, clean and permanent home seems a long way off. In less than four months more than 655,000 people have fled their homes and villages, seeking safety in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, living in makeshift shelters comprised of plastic sheets, bamboo and pieces of string. Here they have scant protection from the current winter cold, or the battering monsoon rains due in just a few months. Streams of sewage run alongside their new homes, creating an appalling stench as toilets and washing facilities are scarce. Young children, for want of somewhere cleaner and safer to play, dance barefoot in the filth.

Since September, CARE International and local partners have reached more than 160,000 refugees with food, health care, hygiene kits, cooking kits, and shelter kits. The latter have allowed people to live with a bit more privacy and dignity. CARE is also working with the UN and Concern Worldwide to identify and treat acute malnutrition in children, so far supporting nearly 200,000 youngsters.

W have also opened two temporary community clinics providing health care services – including sexual and reproductive health care and vaccinations – to refugees. We are creating women and adolescent-friendly spaces which are basically cordoned-off areas, with large tents which offer women and girls a safe space to spend time. There they can relax, get advice about services in the camp, or meet specialist advisors, who provide counselling and a referral service for survivors of gender-based violence.

This will mean that, if required, women will be sent to hospitals with better, more specialist facilities outside the camps. We are also assisting the government with refugee camp management and the co-ordination of emergency responses.

The approach we take in responding in any emergency is to focus particularly on women and girls. Whether they are menstruating, pregnant, breastfeeding, or simply older and more frail, they have specialist needs which require specialist solutions.

Our approach is particularly needed in Cox’s Bazar, where 70 per cent of inhabitants are women and children. In October, Medecins sans Frontieres highlighted a plague of sexual violence against Myanmar refugees. What medics had seen at health clinics would only be a fraction of the true scale, they said, as most survivors face practical and cultural barriers to accessing treatment. But of those who did access treatment, 50 per cent were 18 years old and under – some victims even under 10 years of age.

As well as the trauma that women are likely to have endured, gender roles among this community are very traditional and many women in the camp are reluctant to come out of their shelters into the crowded pathways between tents. Many have created their own toilet facilities in, or attached to, the tents – the source of the brown sludge that flows down the hills alongside the shelters.

Clean drinking water is also scarce. While there are many hastily-built shallow wells in the camp, over 65 per cent are now contaminated with E. coli, a direct result of having toilets close to wells.

With so many living, eating and defecating in such close quarters – and with a lack of hygienic toilet facilities and safe water – aid agencies are concerned about the spread of disease. Only this week a team of NHS specialists have arrived from the UK to help fight an outbreak of diphtheria. Scores of new cases have been reported daily over the Christmas period, the majority of them children aged between five and 14. The disease affects the nose and throat but without treatment it quickly leads to breathing difficulty, heart failure, paralysis and death.

This is where the Disasters Emergency Committee money donated by the Scottish public is so desperately needed.

In order to get to water that is safe to drink aid workers need to drill as far down as 700 feet. And thanks to the generosity of donors this work has now started. CARE is now building deep tube wells, safe and sanitary toilets, and hand-washing facilities for 1700 households (over 10,000 people). We are also building a women-only washroom where women can have some privacy – without being confined to where they sleep.

Our work is just starting. We have been providing shelter building kits to thousands of families and tool kits to every five households so they can maintain their own shelters, protecting themselves against risks of heavy rains and landslides. A team of technicians will work with every single household, to advise on the best way to build a strong shelter.

Local Bangladeshi volunteers are also engaged in helping the most vulnerable to build the shelters. They are paid little more than the cost of travel and food, working primarily through a sense of solidarity.

A huge part of this Christmas and New Year season is sparing a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves. We are so grateful that so many people have responded so generously to our call for help. Your money brings safety to hundreds of thousands who have fled violence and fear and gives them the basic dignity that every human being deserves.

As 2017 draws to a close it is sad to say that these communities will be battling for these rights for some time to come. However, with your support, there is renewed hope so please continue to do what you can to help. Thanks again and Happy New Year."

To donate to the DEC Emergency Appeal please go to