Wednesday, October 17, 2018

UN flags serious impacts of Rohingya crisis on Bangladesh environment

  • Senior Correspondent bdnews24.com
    Published: 2018-09-18 19:13:43 BdST

bdnews24

The UN Development Programme has pointed to the serious impacts of the Rohingya crisis on the environment in a study as over 1.1 million Myanmar nationals have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar.

The report released on Tuesday identified six physical impacts and seven risks to the ecosystem and recommended 19 mitigation measures to restore the lives in Cox’s Bazar.

The study finds that Rohingya needs 6,800 tonnes of firewood collected from forests a month, and each family used about 60 culms of bamboo to construct settlements.

Thousands of shallow tube-wells installed in Kutupalong and Balukhali camps for the refugees are threatening groundwater and fuelling risks of landslides.

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees are cleaning bushes on a hill at Palongkhali in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar to build new shelters. Photo: muhammad mostafigur rahman

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees are cleaning bushes on a hill at Palongkhali in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar to build new shelters. Photo: muhammad mostafigur rahman

A total of 4,300 acres of hills and forests were cut down to make temporary shelters and facilities in Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, threating the biodiversity of the three ecologically critical areas. The restoration of the ecosystem will become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately, according to the report.

Up to 4,000 acres of hilly lands in the Teknaf-Ukhiya-Himchhari watershed area have been cleared of vegetation, the report said.

Groundwater was depleting fast due to over extraction, surface water depletion due to excessive extraction and pollution, poor management of solid waste and faecal sludge, soil erosion and hill cutting due to settlement of houses in hills, indoor air pollution from cooking, shrinkage and degradation of wildlife habitats and human-wildlife conflicts and disturbance of marine and freshwater ecosystems.

The UNDP suggested providing alternative fuel for cooking, restoration of degraded ecosystem and management of solid waste and fecal sludge in the camps as some of the mitigation measures.

The objective was to define the baseline of the environmental context of geographical areas of Rohingya movement and their settlement and identify current and potential environmental impact.

Minister for Environment and Forests Anisul Islam Mahmud, while launching the report, urged all to prioritise the conservation of environment.

“What I am afraid of is that, first of all, this is a problem which is not going to be over in the next few years as indicated by all. Even if Rohingyas go back, what will happen to the environment? Would anyone pay for that restoration of the environment?

“I don’t think so. There are so many issues today all over the world. There is so much of demand for money all over the world,” he said, adding that he would support every programme to address the crisis.

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees are cleaning bushes on a hill at Palongkhali in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar to build new shelters. Photo: muhammad mostafigur rahman

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees are cleaning bushes on a hill at Palongkhali in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar to build new shelters. Photo: muhammad mostafigur rahman

UNDP Bangladesh Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee said 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 environmental and ecosystem as part of the government of Bangladesh’s response in Cox’s Bazar.

“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,” he said.

The UN system has stepped up with solutions like alternative fuel, solid waste management, and replantation, but the current investment is not adequate.

“It needs sustainable solutions and long-term effort for restoration and conservation,” the UNDP said in a statement on the report.

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 restoration of ecosystem become irreversible if measures are not taken immediately, according to the report.

The study also addressed environmental and related gender-based issues and health risks due to the Rohingya influx.