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Rohingya threat to ecological biodiversity

Published : 26 Sep 2019 08:46 PM | Updated : 06 Sep 2020 03:36 PM

The large influx of Rohingya refugee into Cox’s Bazar district is putting a great amount of pressure on local resources and livelihoods. It is also challenging development, infrastructure, and health care that are already in peril. The Rohingya crisis is also hindering the economic growth of the country, speakers said at a discussion Thursday. Rohingya influx into the Cox’s Bazar area has destroyed most of the forestland, clearing mostly the hill areas, around 6000 acres of forestland in Ukhiya and Teknaf.

The camps are accommodating the majority of the population in this particular area. The rapid destruction of forestland for the settlement of people disturbs the overall environment, and especially the ecological balance. Cutting down of trees for fuel wood and making shelters has been critical. Deforestation has become rampant.

The loss of forest increases the threat of flood, soil erosion, and more importantly, loss of habitat for the variety of species. Speakers at the seminar titled ‘Rohingya People: Bangladesh in Multiple Crisis’ at Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban on Dhaka University campus expressed concern over ecological disaster and stressed on efforts to make Myanmar take back it's citizens.

The Forest and Environment Sub-Committee of ruling Awami League (AL) hosted the seminar.AL Presidium Member Begum Matia Chowdhury addressed as the chief guest with AL Advisory Council Member and Forest and Environment Sub-Committee Chairman Professor Dr Khondkar Bazlul Haque in the chair.

Noted journalist Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and environmentalist Professor Nazrul Islam, former governor of Bangladesh Bank (BB) Professor Dr Atiur Rahman, security analyst major general (retd) Mohammad Ali Shikder were present at the seminar. Architect Iqbal Habib presented a keynote paper.

Begum Matia Chowdhury said, “Huge Rohingya influx emerged as serious threat spoiling natural equilibrium, settlements are being established in that area clearing forests and hills, as a result those areas are becoming insecure and risky too,"

“We sheltered them from the humanitarian perspective, but now they have became a serious threat to our economy and ecological biodiversity, Myanmar has to take them back, ensuring their safety and livelihood immediately, As the influx continues, its effects on biodiversity may become irreversible if not properly managed.” she added.

Matia warned no game over the Rohingya issue by any group, country or Nation would be tolerated.Matia said, "Many communities played different games over refugee issue, but we do not tolerate any game by any country or community, but rather we handled them with iron hand".

"In 2014, when the Prime Minister came to power the conspirators understood that the country is going to be developed rapidly, and tried to protract the crisis to hinder our economy, environment and overall development", she added.Rohingya have caused huge damage to environment. Land use, ground water, surface water, forests, biomass, water bodies, all the aspects of natural environment have been hugely affected by the activities of these refugees.

Dr. Atiur Rahman said, “while Bangladesh is going forward by inclusive development under the amazing leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Rohingya influx is posing a challenge to sustainable economic growth."“Bangladesh government spent more than 72 thousand crore taka for the Rohingyas in the last two years with a large number of officials and police required to take care of them. If the government fails to repatriate them soon, it will create long term hindance to our economic development,” Atiur Rahman added.

According to UNDP, 8000 acres of forestland has been lost due to campsites, 6800 tons of firewood collected and TK 1,865 crore worth damage has been done to the environment till 2018.Apart from the Bangladesh government, national and international civil society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights organisations also need to keep up pressure on Myanmar for a sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas, speakers said.

“The influx currently causes and will continue to cause a critical impact on forest land in the Teknaf and Ukhia ranges. This is an adverse impact high in magnitude and in a large geographical area, long-term, or irreversible if not properly mitigated,” the keynote by Architect Iqbal Habib said."Thousands of shallow tube wells have been installed in the influx areas, which are very close to each other, particularly in Kutupalong and Balukhali camps, to meet huge demand, resulting in exhaustive withdrawal of water from the shallow aquifer, as a result, some of the wells have gone dry in the meantime.

Apprehensions are there that the shallow aquifer could be exhausted within next several months.” the paper said.Bangladesh is currently hosting nearly 1.2 million Rohingyas, most of whom came to the country after late August 2017, when Myanmar launched a brutal offensive against the mainly-Muslim ethnic minorities.