DHAKA: Some 2,000 hectares of forestland — equivalent to four football fields — around Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has disappeared due to Rohingya refugees cutting trees for firewood, according to a report by the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG).
It added that 86 percent of drinking-water wells have been contaminated with the E.coli bacteria from fecal matter.
Due to the “extreme level” of deforestation, the area’s biodiversity has been jeopardized, said Saiful Islam, assistant director of the environmental office in Cox’s Bazar.
The government will implement a reforestation plan once 100,000 Rohingya are relocated to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal, he added. “This relocation process is supposed to start very soon,” he said.
Hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar “has created extraordinary pressure on our resources, as the population of Cox’s Bazar has more than doubled in a short span of time,” Islam added.
Rakibul Amin, country manager for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told Arab News: “Due to deforestation, the biodiversity of Cox’s Bazar is under severe threat.”
He added: “It has destroyed a popular corridor for wild elephants, increasing the number of man-animal encounters.” Some rare wildlife species are at risk due to the deforestation, he said.
Agricultural land near the refugee camps is facing siltation and contamination from fecal matter, according to the ISCG report.
Bishwajit Sen, an environmentalist in Cox’s Bazar, said: “This deforestation has made this coastal district more vulnerable to climate change.”
He added: “We should have done better and systematic management of the environment from the outset of the refugee crisis.”
To reduce dependence on firewood, some aid agencies have started arranging alternative fuel sources, the report said.