Bangladesh’s economy will face multiple adverse impacts if the recently arrived Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not repatriated soon, economists and experts have warned.
The detrimental effects are expected to include local food and transport price hikes, food grain shortages, and reduced tourism, along with increased pressure on natural resources and various social issues.
The intensity of these will be more visible when flow of international aid lessens, experts observed. They said if the crisis is not resolved soon then a huge amount of money, food and natural resources will need to be spent to support the Rohingya.
“Once our economy will be affected badly; food items and household materials will witness price hike,” former finance adviser to a caretaker government ABM Mirza Azizul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said the budget allocation of FY2017-18 may even fall short as it was finalised without considering the latest Rohingya influx, and the government will continue to spend a lot of money to feed and shelter the refugees.
“The government will have to revise the budget and increase the allocation. Otherwise, projects will be shelved and expenditures will be cut,” he added.
According to the UN, about 480,000 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh for shelter since the Myanmar army crackdown started on the ethnic group in late August.
Many have settled in makeshift refugee camps in Ukhiya upazila in Cox’s Bazar, where local residents have also been expressed their concerns to the Dhaka Tribune over the climbing prices of essential commodities.
“The prices of almost everything have risen in the last two weeks due to higher demand following the Rohingya influx,” said Shamsul Alam, a resident of Balukhali.
As of Monday in Ukhiya, onions were selling at Tk60 per kilogram and potato at Tk40 per kg, compared to Tk45 and Tk25 respectively in Dhaka.
However, traders claimed the prices have risen due to higher transportation costs and a price hike at source level. “Transportation costs here have almost doubled,” concurred Shamsul.
Meanwhile, tourism officials in Cox’s Bazar district are concerned about the upcoming season starting from November as the refugee crisis is yet to de-escalate.
“If the crisis is not resolved soon, it will threaten and impact the business,” an owner of a Cox’s Bazar hotel, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune.
He said the marine drive, one of the most attractive tourist spots on the coast, should be made inaccessible to all Rohingya.
ABM Mirza Azizul Islam also said that Rohingya refugees spreading throughout the district will threaten tourism as tourists will be reluctant to visit over security issues and fears of possible chaos.
However, James Babu Hazra, secretary general of Bangladesh Hotel and Guest House Owners Association, told the Dhaka Tribune that holidaymakers should be reassured that the army is now monitoring the Rohingya issue.
“The tourists won’t face any security issues and will be able to move freely, but the businesses in Teknaf and Saint Martin’s Island will suffer if proper measures are not taken,” he said.
Md Nasir Uddin, chief executive officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board, said the local tourism sector will not face any problem if the government manages to shelter the Rohingya properly.
“We can’t avoid the Rohingya, considering humanitarian grounds. But if we can bring their unrestricted movement under control, everything can be managed,” he said.
Experts have also warned of the high cost of housing and feeding the 480,000 Rohingya refugees.
“The current estimate stands at over Tk6,400 crore to Tk8,000 crore a year for the refugees: up to 70% of Bangladesh’s income per capita,” Ashikur Rahman, a senior economist of Policy Research Institute, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“This, however, is a conservative estimate, which would provide only for basic services.”
A distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Debapriya Bhattacharya, said earlier that there were two types of costs involved in providing the stricken Rohingya with essential services: direct and indirect.
“Direct costs include food and health services while indirect costs are incurred by the community and environment,” he said.