Rohingya Crisis and Ecological Disaster in Ukhiya and Teknaf

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Manager-Landscape Planning, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Winrock International, Bangladesh


At the end of September, MzN said goodbye to its Context program in Bangladesh. We are very happy to have had the opportunity to work together with a highly motivated team, many of whom are now in the field in Cox’s Bazar, engaging with the Rohingya crisis first hand and doing an amazing job helping those in need. We have reached out to one of our former Context participants, Mr. Shams Uddin, who was kind enough to share his views on the Rohingya situation with us, giving a short overview on the dimension this crisis has on both, a humanitarian and ecological level. You can read more about our Context project here.


Rohingya Crisis and Ecological Disaster in Ukhiya and Teknaf

Since the end of August 2017, more than 500,000 Rohingya refugees have been forced to migrate to Bangladesh due to ethnic related violence in Myanmar. This adds to over 33,000 Rohingya refugees currently living in two existing refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh (Kutupalong and Nayapara) that were established in the 1990’s as a result of similar ethnic violence in Myanmar. In addition to the human tragedy of this forced migration, the Rohingya refugee camps are situated in some of the most sensitive and biodiverse protected area landscapes in Bangladesh, including the Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary and Himchari National Park. The Rohingya camps have already encroached on 800 hectares of protected forest land and more than 2500 total hectares are being planned to accommodate the influx of Rohingya in additional camps. While the previously existing camps have already resulted in severe degradation of the protected forest areas, the current expansion is likely to result in an ecological/environmental disaster from the conversion of land for camps, schools and religious institutions as well as the associated demand for wood for fuel, construction materials and the uncontrolled extraction of forest products for other livelihood needs.

Current Rohingya settlements have already encroached upon the natural movement corridors of the resident Asian Elephant population in area and there are reports of increasing elephant movements in the protected forests in the area already. The expansion of Rohingya camps will further compromise the movement of elephants as well negatively affect the habitat for other wildlife in these areas. Additionally, the lack of proper sanitation facilities, water resources and the indiscriminate disposal of solid waste will further contribute to the potential for an ecological disaster in the area. Government agencies as well as national and international humanitarian organizations are working to develop short and long-term solutions to the Rohingya refugee crisis. Unfortunately, the ecological and environmental issues for the sensitive forest areas where the Rohingya are being settled have yet to be adequately considered. There is an urgent need for a common understanding of and immediate actions to address these threats to avoid an ecological disaster. Potential immediate actions might include relocating Rohingya refugees to Char areas with all basic needs, the provision of LPG cooking facilities in refugee camps to reduce the pressure on wood resources; provision of high efficiency wood cookstoves for the local Bangladeshi population as well as refugees as appropriate; establishment of tree nurseries to produce fast growing wood and fruit tree seedlings with concurrent programs to supply local communities and refugees for planting; ensure refugee camps are placed to avoid major elephant corridors and wildlife movement areas; and develop a comprehensive environment and conservation education program for refugees to build awareness of conservation needs. Only a coordinated effort led by the government and humanitarian agencies has the potential to mitigate against an ecological disaster in the Ukhiya and Teknaf areas of Bangladesh.

The contents are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USAID or the United States Government.