Rohingya influx degrading our forest lands

Prudent environmental management programmes required

A recent report of the Forest Department has revealed that the influx of the displaced Rohingyas has been causing extensive damage to forest resources of the Cox’s Bazaar region. The report reveals that Rohingyas have encroached on a total of 6200 acres of forestland in the Cox’s  Bazaar region while the forest land-grabbing spree is increasing every day.

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million forcefully displaced Rohingyas staying in 34 refugee camps in Cox’s District. The majority clusters in the forests around Kutupalong, which has become one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Once an area of thick greenery, Kutupalong has become a sea of plastic tents propped up against each other.

Experts are of the opinion that 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 down trees indiscriminately from nearby government forests and even uprooting the roots in their desperate search for firewood.  What is more alarming is that some government, private and international donor agencies are engaged in cutting hills to build permanent structures for offices and quarters, thereby further threatening local forests and environment. 

It is envisaged that the forestlands of Teknaf and Ukhiya will no longer exist if the depletion of forest resources continues unabated. According to a rough estimate, the Rohingyas are destroying forest resources to meet their daily demand of firewood of 800 tons. Considering this the government should look for alternative options like LPG or low-cost coal for the displaced Rohingyas.

Significant adverse impacts on various environmental components have been caused both by the Rohingya camps and by increased anthropogenic pressure far beyond the boundaries of the area of the camps. If the environmental impacts of the influx continue unmitigated, the already heavily polluted environment will soon suffer significant conversion and degradation, substantially reducing the habitat’s ability to maintain viable populations of its native species and losing its ability to sustain its ecosystem.

Prudent environmental management and detailed long-term monitoring programmes are recommended to mitigate the environmental damage and loss from the influx. The situation demands immediate investments in restoring the environment and ecosystem as part of the government’s humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazaar. Also there is a need to implement various mitigation programmes and offsets to prevent the environment from further degradation.