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Rohingyas continue forest carnage

Published : 18 Oct 2019 10:08 PM | Updated : 06 Sep 2020 08:07 PM

Rohingyas have destroyed 8000 acres of forestland causing a financial loss of over Tk 2420 crore. According to the Department of Forest,  forests and hilly areas of Cox's Bazar are now occupied by the Rohingyas. After destroying the forests and cutting the hills, these areas are being occupied to solve the Rohingya housing crisis. 

Particularly, because the deep forests and hills make it suitable for human habitation, wild elephants are leaving these areas, and invading the homes of ordinary people. 

Environmentalists have warned in advance that such conditions may occur if wildlife habitat is occupied by humans. This came up at the 8th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change at the Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner’s Conference Room, chaired by Committee President and parliament member Saber Hossain Chowdhury. Total area of forests affected by the Rohingya population was discussed in detail at the meeting.

During the meeting, the expert Committee recommended diagnosis of the extent of damage to the environment and biodiversity, and how much of the damage could possibly be recovered by preventing destruction. The Committee recommended a detailed description of Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project and the impact.

Environment, Forest and Climate Change Committee member Md Shahab Uddin MP, Deputy Minister Habibun Nahar MP, Zafar Alam MP, Md Rezaul Karim Bablu MP, and Khodeza Nasreen Akhter Hossain MP took part in the meeting.

The committee recommended that necessary measures be taken to provide healthy water for the Rohngyas. At the meeting, environment ministry officials placed the report on environmental impact in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas since the Rohingya influx started in August 2017. According to the report, a total of 6,164.02 acres of reserved forests had been destroyed to make way for the settlements in the upazilas. Trees have been chopped down for firewood in an additional 1,837 acres of forest.

Of the 6,164.02 acres lost to settlements, 4,136.52 acres were natural forest and 2027.50 acres planted forest. The land belongs to the Cox’s Bazar South Forest Department. Rohingya refugees have been living in 34 camps, of which 26 are in Ukhiya and eight in Teknaf. In forests, planted trees worth around Tk 198 crore and naturally growing trees worth around Tk 456 crore have disappeared, the report said. In the 6164.02 acres of reserved forest, the damage to the biodiversity is equivalent to an estimated loss of about Tk 1,409 crore, the report said. It said, a large number of makeshifts built after wrecking the trees caused extensive damage to the biodiversity.

Therefore, it may take a long time for an expert team to properly assess the damage. In September 2016, an expert team of the government assessed how the construction work of Single Point Mooring in Moheshkhali upazila of the district impacted the biodiversity of a nearby reserved forest. The estimation regarding the damage to biodiversity by Rohingya settlements was made in light of the findings of the 2016 assessment. Following a recent proposal of the forest department, the ministry formed an outline of a 10-member expert team to thoroughly assess the damage to biodiversity.

However, different organizations are still building permanent structures in the Rohingya camp areas cutting hills and razing forests, the report said. Regarding this, elephant researcher at the Chattogram University Institute of Forestry and Environmental Science Associate Professor Dr. Raihan Sarker said, According to the law, human settlement cannot be within a kilometer of forest land.But no one is obeying this law.” Dr. Raihan Sarker also said, Now there is a Rohingya camp blocking the elephant corridor. Border and land mines have been planted along the border. 

Elephants are now rushing to search for new corridors, along with the food crisis. For these reasons, the incidents of human-elephant clashes are increasing now, he added. One died in an elephant attack in 2016. Two people died in 2017. And in 2018, 5 people died. Asked about this, Department of Forestry Officer (Wildlife Management and Natural Conservation) Abu Naser Mohammad Yasin Nawaz said, “Elephants are attacking the locality because of the construction of houses in the elephant corridor and the cutting of forests. From 2016 to 2018 alone, elephants were affected by 71 attacks. Of those, 16 died.

The Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Director General of the Department of Environment, the Chief Forest Conservator of the Department of Forests along with senior officials of the Ministry and Secretariat of the Parliament were present.