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POST TIME: 2 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Unplanned Rohingya settlements
Risk of landslides looms large
SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS, Ctg

Risk of landslides 
looms large

Rohingya refugees, who fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar security forces in Rakhine state, are living in hovels in Cox’s Bazar district, damaging 4,206 acres of hilly land of the forest department. The Rohingyas have built the hovels in an unplanned way, destroying the biodiversity of the reserved forest in Cox’s Bazar. This has made them vulnerable to landslides triggered by heavy rain.

Currently, the government and NGOs are worried at the thought of disaster waiting to happen. The forest department said the Rohingyas are living on slopes, valleys and top of the hills. There is no protection for them from landslides. Moreover, rainwater may aggravate the problem as low-lying areas will go under water when the monsoon arrives.

As per estimates, over one million Rohingya refugees are staying in tents at Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas of Cox’s Bazar district. The tents have been erected with bamboo and plastic tarpaulins in squalid camps.

The forest department said if rain continues for three days, the Rohingya camps are likely to witness a great disaster. In 2017, at least 200 people were killed in landslides in the Chittagong region, including Cox’s Bazar district, due to incessant rain during the monsoon.Contacted, the conservator of forest of Chittagong Division, Dr Md Zuglul Hossain, told The

Independent: “I'm concerned about landslides during the rainy season as the camps have been built in an unplanned way. If steps are not taken now, there will be another disaster. It's hilly land, so the rain may cause massive landslides in the camps.”  

He was also concerned about the elephant-human conflict in the camps. He said so far 11 people have been killed by pachyderms as the camps are in the midst of an elephant habitat.

“While building the shelter for the Rohingyas, no plan was followed. They are now exposed to imminent landslides and conflict with the elephant. I have informed the authorities and ministries about the possible danger in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar district,” Hossain said.

Officials of the Cox’s Bazar district administration should have built the shelter in a planned way, he added.

Richard Evans, UNHCR’s senior shelter specialist in Cox’s Bazar, said in the web report of the UNHCR on January 18: “One challenge in Kutupalong is environmental. When refugees first arrived in large numbers last year, many stripped the vegetation for fuel, even digging out roots. That, in turn, will aggravate the problem of landslides and soil erosion when the monsoon arrives. Rainwater will gush down the hillsides, filling existing pools of stagnant water on lower land. All this aims at saving lives before the rainy season starts in a few months’ time. After that, this low-lying land, interspersed with rolling hills, will become susceptible to landslides and flash floods. Before the monsoon comes, we need to move as many people as possible to higher ground and keep providing shelter kits.”

The UNHCR has distributed 30,000 shelter kits and targets to provide 80,000 more such kits by March. In all, there are about 100,000 shelters in Kutupalong, the UNHCR report said.

Early thinking is also taking place to reinforce shelters after the monsoon. So far, it is assumed that the bamboo and tarpaulin model will be retained. The kinds of tents and caravans used in other refugee settings do not appear suitable for the region’s topography and climate, the UNHCR web report said.

As per the report of the forest department, Rohingya Muslims who fled last year's military crackdown in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar found shelter on 4,206 acres of forest land, while the refugees who fled the crackdown in 2016 found shelter on more than 695 acres of forest land.

The Rohingyas damaged the forest worth Tk. 397.18 crore, said the report. Contacted, Chittagong divisional commissioner Md Abdul Manan told The Independent: “We're also concerned as the shelters were built in an unplanned way. I have directed all officials to take measures so that disaster can be avoided in the camps during the rainy season.”

As per the report of the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), till January 28 this year, 165,000 shelters were built for the refugees in Cox's Bazar, while the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) set up 2,312 tube-wells, 5,000 latrines and 440 baths.