The thousands of Rohingyas sheltered in the hilly areas of Cox’s Bazar are living in fear of mudslide as monsoon is around the corner.
The government, site managing non-government organizations, local administration and other agencies are looking for options to protect the Rohingyas during the monsoon season, especially the ones living on the hill slopes in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.
As part of it, the administration has found an unconventional, innovative and low-cost way to prevent slope erosion by using vetiver grass, locally known as “Binna Grass.”
Senior Assistant Secretary of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry Mohammad Talut said they, along with other organizations, including United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization of Migration (IOM), have taken up a project to plant vetiver grass to prevent mudslide.
Talut, who is in-charge of the project at Balukhali camp, said: “Rohingyas are living on around 7,500 acres of land in the hills of Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.”
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“The process of bringing and planting the grass on the hills of Kutupalong camp has already begun. Other non-government organizations like Brac, Action Aid and Danish Refugee Council (DRC) will also help us in planting the grass.”
He added: “If it is successfully planted, it will help us save around 400,000 Rohingyas.”
According to government data, around 300,000 Rohingyas live in tarpaulin shelters on bare, unstable hill slopes.
What is vetiver?
Vetiver (Vetiveria Zizanioides), a clumping grass without stolons or rhizomes, is known for its ability to reduce siltation and stabilize soil. It grows up to five feet high and forms clumps and its stems are tall, and the leaves are long, thin and rather rigid. Vetiver’s roots grow downward to about seven feet to 13 feet deep.
The massively thick root binds the soil, making it difficult to be dislodged under high velocity water flows. Vetiver has neither stolons nor rhizomes. Because of these characteristics, the vetiver plant is highly drought-tolerant and can help protect soil against sheet erosion.
Though it originates in India, vetiver is widely cultivated in tropical regions. The major vetiver producers are Haiti, India, Indonesia, and Réunion.
How the idea generated?
Mohammad Talut came up with the idea to implement the project in the mudslide-prone hills in Ukhiya.
He said: “The government sent me to Ukhiya couple of months back to work for Rohingyas in the camps. The Rohingyas took shelter on the slopes of hills by cutting hills and trees.
“All the hills have now turned treeless. I was worried thinking about the rainy season as these hills are having high risk of mudslide.”
He added that the lives of at least 500,000 Rohingya are at risk.
Talut, a former student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), discussed the matter on Buet’s Facebook page to find a short-cut and low-cost strategy to tackle the problem.
During the discussion, he came to know about Buet’s Civil Department Prof Dr Md Shariful Islam, who is working on the effectiveness of vetiver and has received awards for his efforts.
He said: “I started researching and searching for vetiver plant in Bangladesh, and finally got some plants on the hills in Rohingya camps.
“Planting the tree is a very good option to tackle the mudslide as the roots grow downward, and can survive in 15 degree to 55 degree Celsius.”
Prof Shariful said: “Vetiver grass is very effective and is being used as an effective bio-technology for slope protection in many countries.
“The result depends on how this green technology is implemented. If they are properly planted and taken care of, then it will be a low cost solution for tackling the situation.”