Deforestation in Bangladesh puts Rohingya refugees at risk: UNDP

Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visits a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 20 January 2018

Deforestation in Bangladesh puts Rohingya refugees at risk: UNDP

DHAKA: Camps housing more than a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are facing “great risk” of a landslide, according to a recent UN Development Programme (UNDP) report.
The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment report suggests that the recent influx of Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar has had a hugely negative impact on forest land in Cox’s Bazar, with thousands of hectares destroyed for the construction of camps and for much-needed fuel for fires.
“The establishment of makeshift camps in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts, close to several unique environmentally sensitive areas, threatens global biodiversity and causes the degradation of critical natural habitats,” the report claimed.
Around 1,485 hectares of forest land in Ukhia, Whykong, and Teknaf has so far been affected, and more land will be degraded if the practice continues, it warned, adding that the effect of the influx on biodiversity “may become irreversible if not properly managed.”
The report identified 28 risk factors, rated from “critical” to “low,” for local residents and refugees. The list included landslides, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, contamination of surface water, and the rapid exhaustion of underground water supplies.
The UNDP has submitted the report to Bangladesh’s Ministry of the Environment, and authorities are now assessing ways to mitigate the impact of the refugees’ arrival.
According to the report, the area is now so badly damaged that heavy rainfall or strong winds may cause landslides in the area, threatening the refugees’ lives.
However, the report also warns that refugees may be at risk from their host community, as diminishing resources are likely to cause tension and social conflict.
Saiful Islam, deputy director of the Department of Environment at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News: “The region is located on a fault line, so a small deviation of the plate under the earth could create a massive earthquake, making landslides highly likely. Since it is a densely populated area, the number of casualties would likely be very high.”
The Bangladeshi government has already adopted a forestation plan in some parts of the roadside hills from which the refugees were shifted to a different area, said Islam. But that program can only begin during the next monsoon season.
The deforestation has also affected the natural habitats of the area, leading to an increased number of wildlife attacks. During the past four months, at least eight wild elephant attacks on the refugee camps have been reported.
“There are four elephant tracks in this area, but since the elephants’ habitat has been squeezed, they come down to the locality in search of food and attack people,” said Mohammad Nikarujjaman, commissioner of Ukhia sub-district.
“Now the conflict between wildlife and man has increased significantly.”
Nikarujjaman told Arab News that in the latest elephant attack, on Friday morning, killed one refugee and injured four others. Six makeshift houses were also destroyed.
A total of 12 refugees have reportedly been killed in separate elephant attacks since August.


Protests mount in Indian Kashmir clampdown

Updated 5 min 32 sec ago

Protests mount in Indian Kashmir clampdown

  • Tensions remain high in the disputed Himalayan region
  • New Delhi last month to revoked the territory’s decades old semi-autonomous status

SRINAGAR, India: Kashmir has seen an average of nearly 20 protests per day against Indian rule over the last six weeks despite a security lockdown to quell unrest, a senior government source said.
Tensions remain high in the disputed Himalayan region after New Delhi’s controversial decision last month to revoke the territory’s decades old semi-autonomous status.
Despite a curfew, movement restrictions and the severe curtailment of Internet and mobile phone services, public demonstrations against India — mostly in the largest city Srinagar — have been constant, the source said late Saturday.
Altogether there have been 722 protests since August 5, with Baramulla district in the northwest and Pulwama in the south the biggest hotspots after Srinagar, the source said.
Since that date, nearly 200 civilians and 415 security force members have been hurt, according to the source.
Ninety-five of the civilians were injured in the last two weeks, the official said.
So far more than 4,100 people — including 170 local political leaders — have been detained across the valley, with 3,000 released in the past two weeks, the official said.
It was unclear whether any politicians were among those released.
Indian authorities have so far insisted that outbreaks of violence have been minimal, and that only five civilians have died since the clampdown started.
The relatives of four of those killed said they believed the security forces were responsible for their deaths.
The latest updates came as police said Thursday that three men suspected of belonging to a Pakistan-based militant organization were arrested while transporting weapons and ammunition toward Indian Kashmir.
Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which was split between the two countries in 1947.
India deployed extra troops ahead of the August 5 decision to reinforce some 500,000 soldiers already stationed in the region, one of the most militarized places on the planet.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday promised to raise the decision to strip Indian Kashmir of its autonomy at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.