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”.