A massive Rohingya influx puts Cox’s Bazar’s biodiversity at a risk as about 4,300 acres of hills and forests have been cut down to provide them with shelter and other facilities, a UN report says.
The environmental impact of Rohingya influx is a multifaceted problem which requires multifaceted responses.However, some of the major impacts are likely to become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately, it also said.
The report mentioned that the problem needs a sustainable solution and a long-term effort for restoration and conservation of the critically-degraded ecosystem.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women conducted the study on Environmental Impact of Rohingya Influx in support of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The study report was unveiled at a ceremony at a hotel in Dhaka on Tuesday.
Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud spoke at the ceremony as the chief guest while Sudipto Mukerjee, country director of the UNDP Bangladesh, as the special guest.
Anisul 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 and the government is ready to extend its support to restore the environment, he said.
“I’m urging all, including UNDP and other partners to priorities the conservation of degraded ecosystem and environment,” he added.
Sudipto said Cox’s Bazar is the world’s largest refugee camp as it has been hosting over one million Rohingyas since August 25 in 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, he said.
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, he continued.
“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,” he added.
Among others, Dr. Sultan Ahmed, Director General of the Department of Environment, Mohammed Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, Chief Conservator of Forests, Bangladesh Forest Department, Mohammad Mohsin, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, also spoke.
The report highlighted the critical impacts of the largest influx of over 7 lakh Rohingya refugees on the environment of Cox’s Bazar 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.
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 residences at the top and slopes of hills.
Due to the indiscriminate hill cutting to provide Rohingyas with shelters, the terrain of the hills has lost their natural setting, causing a potential risk of landslides.
Around 3,000 to 4,000 acres of hilly land in Teknaf-Ukhia-Himchari watershed area has been cleared of vegetation, it said.
The report also found 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.
The report suggests seven major measures to mitigate the impacts and restore the ecosystem and lives in Cox’s Bazar.