Worries among local people in Cox’s Bazar are growing as many of them find presence of over a million Rohingyas damaging to the environment, natural resources and tourism industry.
On top of these, prices of commodities and transportation costs have shot up in the area amid increased demand, they say.
Spread of highly contagious disease diphtheria among the Rohingyas is a matter of grave concern for the locals as they are coming in touch with ethnic minorities in various ways.
There has been no reported diphtheria case in Bangladesh for the last three decades.
Crimes, including killings inside camps, are also a matter of concern for the locals who fear spread of the crimes outside the camps as repatriation of the Myanmar citizens is a long way away.
They also allege that over a million old and new Rohingyas already crossed the border into the district fleeing persecution in Myanmar putting immense strain on infrastructure, services and low paid job market.
‘Worries are growing among locals over the presence of a huge number of Rohingyas in Ukhia and Teknaf where Bangladeshis are minorities,’ Cox’s Bazar Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Abu Morshed Chowdhury, tells New Age.
‘Increasing crimes at Rohingyas at camps also raise worries,’ he adds.
‘They [Rohingyas] are negatively affecting the environment, tourism business, economy, market price, transportation cost,’ says Abu Morshed Chowdhury, also co-chair of Cox’s Bazar CSO-NGO Forum, a combine of Cox’s Bazar civil society and NGOs.
‘It is not unusual that local people will be aggrieved in such situation… we are working on the issue with donors,’ says Cox’s Bazar refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam.
Since August 25, 2017, more than 7.25 lakh ethnic minority Rohingyas, fleeing violence and systemic discrimination in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, have found shelter and safety in Cox’s Bazar.
They have joined an estimated 4 lakh Rohingyas from previous waves of influx fuelled by intimidation by Myanmar government and army since 1978.
An unprecedented number of Rohingyas fled their homes in Rakhine State after Myanmar military launched a crackdown following attacks on border posts allegedly by Rohingya rebels.
About 6,000 acres of national forests were cleared. Areas previously inhabited by wild elephants became barren. The lush, green, hilly landscape rapidly turned into town of tents as far as the eye can see.
According to Bangladesh officials, the new influx already took to 11.44 lakh the number of documented and undocumented Myanmar nationals in Bangladesh entering the country at times since 1978.
The number of Rohingyas at Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas became almost thrice the number of Bangladeshis there, 4.7 lakh.
Department of Immigration and Passports completed biometric registration of 11,18,576 Rohingyas till June 2018.
Rohingyas are putting immense pressure on water and health facilities and local markets, on water sources, which would push down the ground water level further, executive director of COAST Trust Rezaul Karim Chowdhury told New Age.
A study on impact of Rohingya influx on the host community, done by COAST Trust, says that the adverse impacts are visible in the livelihood, agriculture, environment and water, education and health conditions of the local community.
The study, that was launched on August 19 in Cox’s Bazar, says that at least 2,250 tonnes of firewood are burnt (150,000 families using minimum 15kg firewood daily) daily only for cooking.
An area equivalent to at least 4 football fields are being cleared every day, says the study titled ‘Crisis within the Crisis’.
Each person living in the camps needs at least 10 litres of water every day for drinking, bathing and washing as well as cooking, that is, 15 million liters of water drawn out of the ground every day.
‘It is feared that the ground water in Ukhiya will soon shrink further, although it is difficult to say exactly how soon. Teknaf is already in the danger zone. Even deep tube-wells, 600 to 1,000 feet deep, can hardly find water in Teknaf,’ it says.
The level of pollution in and around the refugee camps is alarming — toilets are being set up anywhere and everywhere and many of them are overflowing.
Ideally, every household needs a toilet but in most cases 2 to 5 families share one toilet here.
Eleven canals and streams that the study team visited were found badly polluted by human waste, plastic packets, kitchen waste and other things. Entire camp area stinks of waste, including human waste.
Due to the Rohingya occupation, water crisis and pollution, some 130 hectares of land in Ukhia and 250 hectares in Teknaf will not be able to grow crops in the upcoming crop season.
In Ukhia, crops on 100 hectares of land were damaged due to the influx, including rice on 60 hectares, vegetables on 20 hectares, and betel leaf on 10 hectares.
The effect on the livelihood of the local people, particularly for the poor and low income families, is double-pronged.
On the one hand, the income has fallen by almost 50 per cent for casual labourers because Rohingya men are available in the market at lower wages.
On the other, prices of daily essentials have gone up. Though a few items like rice and lintel are available at lower prices in the black market as a result of the relief surplus being sold by the Rohingyas, the overall living cost has increased.
The income of the day-labourers has dropped by 50 per cent. The cost of casual labour in this area was Tk 400 to Tk 500 per day, now the wage has come down to Tk 200 to Tk 250 per day.
The price of firewood has already doubled for high demand.
Previously, the price of firewood was Tk 250 per maund [37.5 kilograms], which is now Tk 400. Before August 2017, locals hardly had to spend money on firewood as they could collect it from forest.
Prices of small fish increased by 25 per cent, big fish by 60 per cent, chicken by 22 per cent, vegetables by 33 per cent and transport cost by 20 per cent, according to the study.
There are two main impacts on health due to the Rohingya influx.
First, members of the host community have contracted some diseases that are uncommon in many parts of Bangladesh. Second, due to the huge pressure of the Rohingya population, health facilities in the area are struggling to pay adequate attention to the medical needs of the host community.
The Ukhia Upazila Health Complex has capacity for 70 beds. According to its register, 1,122 Rohingya in and out patients came to the complex in October 2017 against 216 locals, while 823 Rohingyas and 212 locals came to hospital in November, said that study.
Abul Kalam said that donor and government took initiatives to plant at least 1.5 lakh trees, distribute LPG stoves for cooking to Rohingyas and locals, renovate educational institutions and increase capacity of hospitals keeping in mind the concern of locals.
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