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Cox’s Bazar forestland may entirely disappear by 2019

  • Published at 02:05 pm May 20th, 2018
  • Last updated at 02:24 pm May 20th, 2018
The Rohingya refugees collect around 700 tons of firewood every day to meet their fuel and timber needs, as well as clear land to set up new shelters Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The influx of refugees is wreaking havoc on the environment through the depletion of natural resources

Accommodating nearly a million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar is taking a significant toll on the environment. As the Rohingyas cut down trees for timber and firewood, the forests of Cox’s Bazar are at immediate risk.

The United Nations’ Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) published a report which said the Rohingya refugees collect 700 tons of firewood every day. In order to acquire that much timber on a daily basis, forestland equal to the combined size of four football fields would have to be cut down.

So far, around 2,000 hectares of forestland has disappeared. The Energy and Environment Technical Working Group of the ISCG expressed concern that the entire forestland of Cox’s Bazar is likely disappear by 2019, if the current rate of deforestation continues unabated.  

An environmental crisis

According to the report, the population in Cox’s Bazar has more than doubled since the Rohingya influx surged since August, 2017, pitting both refugees and the host community against severe challenges in terms of food security and livelihoods.

The humanitarian crisis is well on its way to a rapidly escalating environmental crisis as landslides and flash floods are becoming more and more frequent.

The rapid and extensive deforestation has led to destruction of key watersheds causing mass erosion, landslides, flash floods, and a dramatic reduction in the recharge of ground water reserves, the report said.

The Cox’s Bazar area is undergoing heavy loss of topsoil and an increased risk of flash floods due to denuded slopes and hillsides.   

According to the report, 86% of drinking water wells have been contaminated with hazardous bacteria E.coli from unmanaged faecal matter. Irrigation wells are not functioning due to watershed destruction and diminished water table.

Agricultural lands near the refugee camps have been facing siltation and contamination from faecal matter. Massive cooking activities and garbage burning are increasing the level of air pollution.

Wildlife and marine habitats jeopardized

The report also revealed that the influx of Rohingyas caused extensive damages to wildlife habitats, marine resources, agricultural lands, and underground water tables in the Cox’s Bazar region.

The report estimates that at least 1,500 hectares of wildlife habitat have been eradicated so far. Wild Asian elephants and other species have lost their habitats and had their natural lives disrupted.

Besides, the influx of refugees has depleted marine resources due to overfishing and destructive practices. The increase in the number of fishing vessels using harmful techniques has disrupted the reproductive cycle of key species and has had detrimental impact on fish stocks. 

The report says the situation requires creating awareness among fishing communities on legal standards and fishing regulations (seasonal bans and appropriate technology) as well as providing alternative income generating opportunities. 

Furthermore, it recommends immediate action like providing alternative clean fuel like LPG to the Rohingyas to avoid the total loss of forestland.