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Rohingya influx, a threat to forest resources

  • Published at 10:37 am March 20th, 2018
Rohingya influx, a threat to forest resources
A recent report of the Forest Department has revealed that the influx of the displaced Rohingyas have been causing extensive damage to forest resources of the Cox’s Bazar region. The Forest Department’s Cox's Bazar (South) Division has prepared the report over three months to assess the damages. The report revealed that Rohingyas have encroached on a total of 5,013 acres of forestland in the Cox’s Bazar region while the forest land-grabbing spree is increasing every day. Before the crackdown of the Myanmar army which began on August 25 last year, the Rohingyas had taken over 695 acres of forestland around Cox’s Bazar, belonging to the Forest Department. After August 25, 2017, 4,318 acres of forestland have been used for constructing makeshift settlements for the Rohingyas. As per the report, different types of relief materials are being distributed among the displaced Rohingyas but they are not provided with firewood for cooking purposes. As a result, the refugees are cutting trees indiscriminately from nearby government forests and even uprooting the roots in their desperate search for firewood. The report projected that the forestlands of Teknaf and Ukhiya will no longer exist if the depletion of forest resources continues unabated. As much as 3,517 acres of forestland in total have been destroyed including 1,199 acres of man-made forests (chiefly social forestry) and 2,318 acres of natural forests. The report estimated a total of Tk4,112,862,671 worth of damage including Tk2,138,853,414 and Tk 1,974,009,257 to the man-made and natural forests, respectively. Social forestry means the management and protection of forests and forestation on barren lands with the purpose of helping in environmental, social and rural development. Natural forest is a forest which has spontaneously generated itself on the location and which consists of naturally immigrant tree species and strains. According to the report, the soil binding capacity of the hills of Cox’s Bazar is very low due to the absence of calcareous clay. The hills comprised of crumbling soil become vulnerable for landslides after a heavy rainfall if the surface is not covered with dense vegetation. The report also pointed out that tree canopy has been destroyed and the hills of the regions have been denuded indiscriminately for constructing makeshift shelters for Rohingyas. More than 6,000 tube wells and 50,363 latrines have been set up including 9-km long power cables and 13.5-km long roads. As a result, the soil of the hilly region has become unstable and the upcoming rainy season might deal a severe blow to the Rohingya refugees. The report also recommended relocating the Rohingyas to safer places to avert landslide-related casualties during the upcoming rainy season. At the same time the report mentioned that relocation to a new place might pose a serious threat to the region’s biological diversity and ecology. Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Dr Zaglul Hossain, Conservator of Forests, Chittagong Circle, said that they are trying with limited manpower and logistic support to protect the forest resources. “We have already suggested forming a committee of experts to assess the damage done to the biodiversity following the latest spell of the displaced Rohingyas,” said Dr Zaglul. “According to a rough estimate, the Rohingyas are destroying forest resources to meet their daily demand of firewood of 800 tons”. “The government is looking for alternative options like LPG or low-cost coal for the displaced Rohingyas,” Md Ali Kabir, divisional forest officer of Cox’s Bazar (South) Division told the Dhaka Tribune. According to the report of the Forest Department, 13 people were killed between August 25 of last year and now by the wild elephants that went on a rampage around the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Cox’s Bazar region is the habitat, stamping ground and corridor of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Balukhali refugee camp has been set up obstructing Balukhali-Ghundhum corridor of the wild elephants. The corridor of the wild elephants has been blocked due to the establishment of dwelling houses and offices of many organizations and hospitals. Consequently Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) has intensified in recent times, the report pointed out. Around 78 wild elephants live in the conserved forests of Ukhiya and Teknaf. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Bangladesh categorized Asian elephant as “critically endangered” as the species of wild animal is now at risk of extinction. Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since August 2017. The pressure on the land is creating another conflict, this time environmental rather than ethnic.
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