Environmental impacts of Rohingya influx: A multifaceted problem requires multifaceted responses
A joint study on Environmental Impact of Rohingya Influx, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, with support from Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was unveiled on September 18, 2018, at a hotel in the capital.
The report highlighted the critical impacts of one of the world’s biggest influx of above 700,000 Rohingya refugees on the environment of Cox’s Bazar and recommended the measures for mitigation, restoration and 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, facilities and cooking fuel in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, threating the biodiversity of the three ecologically critical areas of the country. Some of the key impacts likely to become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately- the report said
From a total forests of 1502 ha, about 793 ha of natural forest land has been encroached. Around 3,000 to 4,000 acres (1,200–1,600 ha) of hilly land in the Teknaf-Ukhia-Himchari watershed area have been cleared of vegetation.
The report identified as key cause for the encroachment, the facts that nearly 6,800 tonnes of fuelwood are collected each month and each of the Rohingya families use on an average 60 culms of Bamboo to construct their temporary shelters.
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, replantation etc. but the current investment is not adequate. It needs sustainable solutions and long-term effort for restoration and conservation.
Attending the discussion and launching of the report as the chief guest, Minister for Environment, Forests 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 priorities the conservation of environment. The government has already extended its support and additional investment to restore the environment.”
Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director, UNDP Bangladesh said, “Being the one of the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar hosts 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 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 to programme early and sustained response and funding”
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 measures to mitigate the impacts and restore the lives in Cox’s Bazar.