Weather threat forces refugee relocation

WARNING: Rohingya
Muslims build shelters
in Cox’s Bazar camps
WARNING: Rohingya Muslims build shelters in Cox’s Bazar camps

BANGLADESH has begun re­locating 100,000 Rohingya ref­ugees to safer ground before the monsoon season for fear of deadly landslides and floods in the congested camps, an official said last Sunday (1).

The country’s refugee com­missioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, said 100,000 refugees living in “priority” areas most at risk from floods and land­slides would be relocated be­fore June.

“We have already shifted some 10,000 refugees from different locations to safer set­tlements,” he said.

The UN says about 150,000 refugees in Bangladesh’s southeast – where nearly one million Rohingya live in shan­ties on hillsides – are extreme­ly vulnerable to disease and disaster this rainy season.

Bangladesh had allocated roughly 3,500 acres (14 square kilometres) of forested land in Cox’s Bazar to the newly-ar­rived Rohingya to build simple shelters. But the forest is being felled at a rate of four football fields a day, Kalam said.

The refugees, who use the firewood for cooking, have al­ready cleared 5,000 acres of forest, Cox’s Bazar deputy dis­trict administrator Mahidur Rahman said.

The once lush hillsides have turned barren, exposing the topsoil and leaving them high­ly vulnerable to landslides during heavy rain, he said.

“Some 200,000 people are vulnerable to landslides,” Rah­man explained.

Monsoon rains wreak havoc every year in Cox’s Bazar and the adjacent Chittagong Hill Tracts, a tropical forest zone home to wild elephants.

Last season, heavy rain trig­gered landslides in the tract region, killing 170 people. Ex­perts blamed deforestation for worsening the impact of the mud avalanches.

In the past week, UN secre­tary general Antonio Guterres has expressed fears the Ro­hingya were “extremely vul­nerable” to the annual storms.

He told reporters he had stressed to Bangladesh that “higher ground is the best place for this kind of relocation”.