Forest on about 3,500 acres of land in Cox’s Bazar is verging on extinction, with Rohingyas erecting shelters in the reserve forest felling trees for setting up shanties and collecting firewood.
Department of Forest officials in Cox’s Bazar on Sunday said that they had a primary estimation of forest on over 3500 acres of land [14.16 square kilometres] at Balukhali, Kutupalang, Tajnima Khola, Keron Toli, Shafiullah Khola and others.
They said that there were 1,000 trees on an average at each acre of the forest consisting of different species of trees including Akashmoni, Koroi and Rain Tree.
Rohingyas, fleeing ethnic cleansing in their homeland Rakhine State of Myanmar, said they were compelled to fell trees as there designated camps were on the forest land and they were facing acute shortage of cooking fuel as assistance from aid providers was nowhere near the requirement.
A top divisional forest official in Cox’s Bazar (south) said that forests on at least 3,500 acres were completely destroyed by the Rohingyas till Sunday.
Divisional forest officer in Cox’s Bazar (south) Ali Kabir said that they were estimating the total loss of forests by the Rohingyas.
‘We are estimating total loss as Rohingyas continue to spread to others forest lands,’ he added.
‘Rohingyas made makeshift camps on more than 3,000 acres of forest land in Balukhali, Kutupalang and adjacent areas,’ he said.
‘They are felling trees also to collect firewood for cooking,’ he added.
Over 6.22 lakh Myanmar nationals fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution in recent time, prime minister Sheikh Hasina said on Sunday at a programme in capital adding that Bangladesh was providing temporary shelter to this huge number of displaced people on humanitarian ground.
‘After 1978 another 5 hundred thousand Rohingyas came to Bangladesh at different time,’ she said.
According to the UN estimation till Sunday, around 6,09,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh since the beginning of the new influx, what the United Nations called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, on August 25.
The new influx began after Myanmar security forces responded to Arakan
Rohingya Salvation Army’s reported attacks on August 25 by launching violence what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.
Terrified, half-starved and exhausted Rohingyas continued arriving in Bangladesh in groups trekking hills and forests and crossing rough sea and the River Naf on boat and taking shelter wherever they could in Cox’s Bazar.
Many Rohingyas took shelter at makeshift camps in reserved forests, felling trees, setting up shanties on hill slopes while some of them took shelter at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.
Transparency International Bangladesh in its rapid assessment titled ‘Problems Related to Refuge Provided in Bangladesh to Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (Rohingya)’ on Wednesday warned that hills and local forests were cut down during the erection of shelters which was affecting the local environment and biodiversity.
‘The firewood for daily cooking is collected from natural sources which is a huge burden on the local forests,’ it said.
Rohingyas and local people said that the international and local aid providers were providing these hapless ethnic minority people from Myanmar with assistances like shelter, food, medication but hardly any cooking fuel.
Rohingyas said that in absence of cooking fuel supply, they needed to collect wood from forests or buy it from local market.
Because of huge demand, firewood price soared significantly at Teknaf and Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar, where Rohingyas took shelter.
The meeting of parliamentary standing committee on forest and environment ministry in parliament complex on October 10 was informed that Rohingyas destroyed forest trees worth Tk 151 crore for erecting makeshift shelters and collecting wood for fuel.
During the first week of October, the Department of Forest officials in Cox’s Bazar estimated that 2,500 acres of forests had been used for making makeshift shelters and collecting fuel wood.
A forest ranger in Cox’s Bazar (south) forest division said that there were about 1,000 trees in each acre of forest land.
Needs and Population Monitoring report of IOM on October 25 said that 40 per cent of the Rohingyas living in different sites reported to have sourced fuel from local forests and 39 per cent from local markets.
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