The continued pressure on the aquifer may even result in saltwater intrusion, rendering it unusable
Water levels around the Rohingya camps have fallen by 5 to 9 metres. The cause behind the decline is excessive dependence on groundwater in the areas where forcibly displaced people have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar, according to a recent study of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The study report, “Impacts of the Rohingya Refugee Influx on Host Communities”, states: “To supply water to the Rohingyas, around 5,731 tube-wells were installed between August and December 2017. This excessive dependence on groundwater is lowering the water levels in the area.”
The report was released on July 25, 2019.
It revealed that freshwater options in the affected areas were extremely limited, particularly in Teknaf (Cox’s Bazar) and Naikhongchhari (Bandarban), where the bedrock surface is 25-30 metres below ground level, reports BSS
The study also noted that irrigation wells were slowly drying up with the water table falling owing to watershed destruction and a significant reduction in the recharge of groundwater reserves. The continued pressure on the aquifer may even result in saltwater intrusion, rendering it unusable, according to the study.
Regarding the impacts of the Rohingya influx on land and agricultural production, the study shows that between August 2017 and March 2018, over 100 hectares of cropland in Teknaf and Ukhiya were damaged by refugee activities. This is in addition to the 76 hectares of arable land occupied by Rohingya settlements and humanitarian agencies.
Around 5,000 acres of land have been rendered useless because of sandy soil flowing down from the mountain slopes, which are being used for refugee housing purposes. Grazing lands have been destroyed.
Teknaf has always faced a lack of fresh water for agricultural production. Faecal contamination is now present in more than four-fifths of sources, and 93 hectares of arable land around the Rohingya camps cannot be cultivated. An additional 380 hectares of land cannot be cultivated owing to lack of water for irrigation, according to the study.
In Teknaf, one in every three people was involved in fishing. Since August 2017, a ban has been in place on fishing in the Naf River for reasons of security, putting significant pressure on around 30,000-35,000 fishermen and their families.
The study shows many fishermen have been compelled to work as wage labourers, but the surge of Rohingya workers has led to lower job availability and lower daily wages. These are the factors as to why the fishing communities around the Naf River are likely to be among the groups most affected by the Rohingya crisis.
The Rohingya influx has also been taking a heavy toll on the environment in Cox’s Bazar. According to the Cox’s Bazar Forest Department, the influx has caused the destruction of about 4,818 acres of forest reserves worth $ 55 million.
In many cases, those who earn a living from forest resources have been deprived of their livelihood. Every day, around 750,000 kilograms of timber, vegetation and roots are collected as cooking fuel. Many species of wildlife are also coming under threat, according to the UNDP study.