Rohingya influx environmental impacts – multifaceted: Study

Dhaka, 18 September 2018: A joint study on Environmental Impact of Rohingya Influx, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, supported by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was unveiled on September 18, 2018, at a hotel in the capital. The report highlighted the critical impacts of the biggest influx of above 700,000 Rohingya refugees on the environment of Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf and recommended the measures for mitigation, ecosystem restoration and natural resource conservation.
Since the influx in August 2017, coupled with the host community and refugees from past influxes, the crisis affected population is now almost 1.5 million in Cox’s Bazar, creating massive pressure on the already dilapidated environment of Cox’s Bazar, which still remains significantly underfunded.
A total of 4,300 acres of hills and forests were cut down to make temporary shelters and facilities in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, threating the biodiversity of the three ecologically critical areas.
Restoration of ecosystem become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately- the report said.
From total forests of 1502 ha, about 793 ha of natural forest land has encroached. Around 1,200–1,600 ha of hilly land in the Teknaf-Ukhia-Himchari watershed area have been cleared of vegetation.
The report identified as the key cause for the encroachment, the facts that nearly 6,800 tonnes of fuelwood are collected each month and each of the Rohingya families uses on an average 60 culms of Bamboo to construct their temporary residences at the top and slopes of hills.
Due to the indiscriminate hill cutting to provide shelters to the Rohingyas, the terrain of the hills has lost their natural setting, causing a potential risk of landslides.
The report also found the thousands of shallow tube wells dug as threats to the aquifers. Air pollution has risen due to increased vehicular traffic and smoke from firewood burned by refugees. Due to lack of recycling system, polythene bags and plastic bottles are all piling up in various parts of the area.
The study addressed environmental and related gender-based issues and health risks due to Rohingya influx.
The UN system has stepped up with solutions like alternative fuel, solid waste management, reforestation, etc. but the current investment is not adequate. It needs sustainable solutions and long-term effort for restoration and conservation of the critically degraded ecosystem.
Attending the discussion and launching of the report as the chief guest, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Anisul Islam Mahmud, said, “Bangladesh has demonstrated its natural hospitality, and responsibility as a caring nation. However, the influx has made a significant impact on the environment in Cox’s Bazar. I’m urging all, including UNDP and other partners to prioritise the conservation of degraded ecosystem and environment. The government is ready to extend its support to restore the environment.”
Sudipto Mukherjee, Country Director, UNDP Bangladesh said, “Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is the world’s largest refugee camp. It has been hosting over one million Rohingyas since 25 August 2017. The emergency is putting immense pressure on scarce natural resources in the area, resulting in degraded natural forests, barren hills and an emerging water crisis. This situation demands immediate investments in restoring the environment and ecosystem as part of the Government of Bangladesh’s humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazaar. Sensing the urgency for measures to prevent further degradation and to support early restoration, we, at UNDP, undertook this report with the aim that it would help development actors programme early response.”
Among others, Dr Sultan Ahmed, Director General, Department of Environment, Mohammed Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, Chief Conservator of Forests, Bangladesh Forest Department, Mohammad Mohsin, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief also spoke in the event.
The report suggests seven key measures to mitigate the impacts and restore the ecosystem and lives in Cox’s Bazar. – Staff Reporter