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Rohingya influx in a climate vulnerable country

  • Published at 04:57 pm September 6th, 2019
Rohingya camp
File photo of a Rohingya Camp Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The Rohingya refugee crisis is putting a great amount of pressure on a country that is already in peril

The geographic and socioeconomic characteristics of Bangladesh makes the country particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Around 77% of people in Bangladesh depend on natural resources and the degradation of the natural resources and biodiversity has a direct impact on the livelihood of the people. Further, sea level rise and extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change impacts will be more perilous. Threatening food security, agriculture and affecting the livelihood of the communities, as well as economic impacts would be stronger; Dhaka, the capital, attracting people around the country in search of better work opportunities, would be one of the most climate vulnerable cities in the world. 

A combination of factors -- poverty, oppression, safety and better opportunities -- lead to displacement of people and crossing of the national border. Migration of people to a country, which is already climate vulnerable, expands a number of problems, including the environmental concerns that eventually affect the livelihood of people. Rohingya refugees are stateless and one of the most widely persecuted minorities in the world. The violence in Myanmar led one million Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh in 2017. Though, the displacement of people from Myanmar has started since the 1990’s. From time to time environmental consequences make the safety and protection of people as well as sustainable use of the resources a massive task. The large influx of Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazar District has been putting enormous stress on the local resources and the livelihood, challenging the development, infrastructure, and health care.

Crunch and consequences 

Rohingya influx in the world's largest and growing refugee camp in the climate vulnerable country has accelerated the pressure on social protection and environmental concerns. Rohingya influx into the Cox’s Bazar area has occupied most of the forestland, clearing mostly the hill areas, which is 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 specially the ecological balance. The forest area of Cox’s Bazar is also home to protected forest and wildlife habitat. Cutting down of trees for fuel wood and making shelters has been critical. The fuel wood collection was a part of the local community’s livelihood survival, but ever since the Rohingya influx, deforestation became rampant. Also, the locals have been affected by the loss of the land and cutting of forest has transformed the hill land. The loss of forest increases the threat of flood, soil erosion, fewer crops, and more importantly, loss of habitat for the variety of species.

Aid agencies are struggling to provide assistance to around 1 million Rohingya population and also the needs of host communities to improve poor conditions, provide safety of women and children, and fulfil the basic needs of all. The major issues are regarding social protection, economic assistance for sustenance and health care services. The weather changing conditions, floods, landslides, contamination of water and damages to the shelter do not put the communities in a safe spot. The World Bank announced grant figure of half a million to provide support to Bangladesh for addressing the needs of Rohingya refugees with health, sanitation, disaster risk management, sustainable use of forest, coastal area safety and rural development. Health care of the people due to the conditions of floods, landslides and the following outbreak of waterborne diseases are at a higher risk. Subsequently, the need to educate the vulnerable refugee youth and children is another important factor. 

Finding balance amidst the challenges

In the climate vulnerable countries with the influx of people it becomes quite challenging to provide social, economic protection and fulfil basic needs at times. In the disaster prone areas where multiple risks are attached, it requires several agencies, both the public and private sector to work together in making the communities climate resilient. Also, monitor changes closely for effective strategies and execution for minimum effect on the livelihood. Making people climate resilient through policy interventions and mainstreaming the major risks is helpful in preparing for the conditions that may arise from time to time. Bangladesh is the first country to have developed a climate resilience program with national level planning and guidelines. The need is to strengthen the institutions with adequate funding arrangements, appropriate execution and fulfilling the human resource requirements for effectiveness. 

Policy changes and adjustment in the national level planning, that support the well-being opportunities to support both communities in tourism, salt production and fisheries and promote the sustainable development goals are necessary. Public and private sector’s inclusive strategies for development of both communities; from financing for livelihood improvement, education, investment in the various sectors, planning and enhancing the mobility of labour are crucial. Also, conservation management plans for the protection of the environment and continuous improvement of institutional mechanism should be implemented. Improving the economic benefit, as the people are consumers, climate financing for development, provide labour and also skill training etc. The new projects with the climate finance to aim at increasing resilience and also, explore financing opportunities for Green climate fund.

International organizations including UNHCR, IMO and UNDP are helping countries to focus on the issue of migration in the national development to enhance community based integration, environmental monitoring, and building capacity at local level. The focus should be equal on the host communities with the refugees for overall mobilizing effort -- handling the tension between the host community and the refugees for the resources, land and opportunities. The need is for multiple stakeholders to collaborate and coordinate for improvement of the social security, in a way the needs of both; the host communities and the Rohingya refugees are considered as well as providing alternative options to put less pressure on the natural resources, which considers both the environment and the people.

Ambalika Singh holds an LLM in Global Environment and Climate Change Law from the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is currently a visiting researcher at ICCCAD.