Rohingya influx puts Cox’s Bazar’s biodiversity at risk: UN report
Multifaceted responses required; Kerosene stoves might cause major fire
Publish- September 18, 2018, 05:59 PM
UNB NEWS - UNB NEWS
Update- September 18, 2018, 07:19 PM
Photo: Bayazid Akter/UNB
Dhaka, Sept 18 (UNB) – Some 4300 acres of hills and forests were cut down to make temporary shelters for Rohingyas and ensure facilities and cooking fuel for them in Ukhia and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar threatening the biodiversity of the ecologically critical areas of the country, says a new report of the United Nations.
Some of the key impacts are likely to become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately, the report said.
Since the influx in August 2017, coupled with the host community and Rohingyas from past influxes, the crisis-hit population is now almost 1.5 million in Cox’s Bazar, creating a massive pressure on the already dilapidated environment there which still remains significantly underfunded, according to the report.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women with the support from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change jointly carried out the study titled ‘Environmental Impact of Rohingya Influx.
The report was unveiled at a high-level discussion here on Tuesday.
Environment and Forests Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud attended the launching ceremony as the chief guest.
UNDP Bangladesh Sudipto Mukerjee and Country Representative, UN Women, Bangladesh Shoko Ishikawa were, among others, present.
The report highlighted the critical impacts of one of the world’s biggest influx of above 700,000 Rohingyas on the environment of Cox’s Bazar and recommended measures for migration, restoration and conversation.
Of the total 1502 hectares of forests, about 793 hectares have been encroached, said the report.
Around 3000-4000 acres (1200-1600 ha) of hilly land in Teknaf-Ukhia Himchari watershed area have been cleared of vegetation.
Identifying the encroachment as the key cause, the report said nearly 6,800 tonnes of fuel wood are collected each month and each of the Rohingya families use on 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.
Polythene bags and plastic bottles are all piling up in various parts of the area due to lack of recycling system.
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 and reforestation but the current investment is not adequate. It needs sustainable solutions and long-term efforts for restoration and conservation of critically degraded ecosystem.
Minister Anisul Islam 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 the UNDP and other partners, to priorities the conservation of degraded ecosystem and environment. The government is ready to extend its support to restore the environment.”
Sudipto Mukerjee said it will take a long time to fix the problem but that does not mean they need to wait long. “We need to act now. We also need innovations. One thing is very clear that this is not a simple problem, not even offers a simple solution.”
He said they need to look at the whole district and think of the host community, too. “It was the host community who opened the door. We must at least not forget them in the process.”
Mukerjee said the problem is putting immense pressure on scarce natural resources in the area, resulting in degraded natural forests, barren hills and 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 Bazar,” he said.
“Sensing the urgency for measures to prevent further degradation and support early restoration, we, at UNDP, undertook this report with the aim that it would help development actors programme early response,” Mukerjee said.
ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir said some 800,000 Rohingays will need to be supported and it is also for the host community, and laid emphasis on alternative use of fuel.
“We’re giving kerosene stoves to the refugees. We must stop this. This is going to be a huge crisis if one incident of fire occurs. We won’t be able to manage this,” she said.
Among others, Dr Sultan Ahmed, Director General of Department of Environment, Mohammed Shafiul Alam Chowdhury, Chief Conservator of Forests of Bangladesh Forest Department, Mohammad Mohsin, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief also spoke at the event.
The report suggested seven key measures to mitigate the impacts and restore the ecosystem and lives in Cox’s Bazar.