Environmental impact of the Rohingya influx
A recent report says about 4000 acres hilly tracts have already been cut down to construct camps for Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Including the surrounding area of those hills, the occupied area is about 10000 acres in total. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) assessment, the Rohingya influx has "influenced" some 26,600 hectares of the total 60,000 hectares of the forest land in Cox's Bazar.
The Rohingya camps are situated in some of the most sensitive and biodiverse protected areas including Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary & HimChari National Park. The Rohingyas are mainly relying on the forest around the area of their camps to collect woods for cooking. Every day, around 50000 kg of firewood is needed. If this continues, it will put a substantial impact on the proposed Inani National Park and potentially on Himchhari National Park too. There will be adverse impact high in magnitude and large geographical area, long-term, or irreversible if the situation is not properly handled.
Cox's Bazar is another concern. In spite of Being an international tourist spot, it has a great ecological contribution to the environment also. But, as a result of deforestation, the sea level rose and already swallowed many low lands around it. If the ecological balance of Cox's Bazar turns into a chaos, the outcome will not be satisfactory. Penetration of Rohingyas made wildlife (Especially wild elephants) vulnerable as they can't move freely for the camps.
Article 18(A) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh talks about the protection and improvement of environment and Biodiversity. At present, there are about 210 laws relating to the environment and over 30 policies, strategies and action plan pertinent to environmental administration.
Environment Conservation Act, 1995 will come in the first place concerning the Rohingya Crisis which talks about Ecologically Critical Areas in section 5. If the Government is satisfied that an area is in an environmentally critical situation, it may declare such area as an ECA. In 1999 the government declared 8 areas as ECAs in Bangladesh, including Cox's Bazar and Teknaf Peninsula, St. Martin's Island. Those areas are not very far from Rohingya camps in Chittagong.
The Forest Act, 1927 covers forests and forest management. Availability of the forest land in Bangladesh is one of the lowest countries in the world. Due to the development process, due to deforestation, due to population, the availability is shrinking every day, rapidly and the Rohingya people are destroying a huge amount of forest every day. The Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973 talks about the wildlife. We have seen, due to Rohingya camps, the life of the wild creatures, especially wild elephants are now in critical condition.
Though Bangladesh is a signatory to twenty international conventions, treaties and protocols in connection with the conservation and protection of environment and ecology. In spite of having all those laws, protocols, treaties, according to the Environmental Sustainable Index Rank-2018, Bangladesh became 179thamong 180 countries. So, it is somewhat very easy to assume that, we are in a very crucial lapse of time, regarding environment if the ecological degradation cannot be tackled within the camps.
Though Bangladesh has a good number of environmental laws, still the environmental condition is vulnerable. The reason is, the citizens are not aware of the impact of the environment as well as about the laws. So, here, Social awareness is the main task for the govt. to overcome this problem. The same thing will also be applied for Rohingyas. Recently, due to a landslide on the Rohingya camp (Cutting of hills without any plans, creates landslides very often in the camp areas) more than five hundred people injured and some people attained death. So, the message should be conveyed to them, if you want to save yourself, save the environment through different social dialogues.
Govt. is planning to transfer a portion of Rohingya to the Chars of Noakhali. This time, govt. should take sustainable plannings. For example- sanitation, water distribution, fuel management etc. should be made planned and environment-friendly.
It is pretty understandable, having a lot of laws regarding the environment, will not change any scenario. It's the people who can make differences, who can create change. If they become aware, if they are made conscious, they will be careful and clairvoyant about the environmental hazards. Another thing, as Bangladesh has taken the burden of more than one million Rohingyas, now it is also their responsibility to keep the environment healthy for the people of this country. People will definitely co-operate with them, but steps will have to be taken by the govt. initially, as soon as possible. Otherwise, dark night is in its way to come, to swallow all the bright lights all on a sudden for good.
Shuvashis Sarkar Shuvo is a student of Law at University of Chittagong