IOM, FAO Re-Plant Bangladesh Forest to Repair Environmental Damage Caused by Refugee Influx

Humanitarian Emergencies, Refugee and Asylum Issues, Rohingya Crisis

Cox’s Bazar  In just two weeks over 45,000 trees and around 700,000 grass cuttings have been planted by Rohingya refugees and local villagers in Cox’s Bazar as part of a joint UN Migration Agency (IOM) and UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) project to help reverse environmental damage caused by the arrival of some 730,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in the area over the past year.

The project aims to plant a further 36,500 trees and million grass cuttings over the coming days.

Bangladesh’s Forest Department, in coordination the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), UN agencies and NGO partners, is leading the way in the effort to stabilize soil and replant in the area, which was previously national forest land.

In total around 200,000 saplings have now been planted by humanitarian agencies over recent weeks, according to the Energy and Environment Technical Working Group (EETWG), the inter-agency group which coordinates energy and environment activities for the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar.

The ongoing and planned replanting projects will also provide livelihood opportunities for thousands of refugees and members of the local community as they work together to improve the environment.

Almost half a million Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar arrived over just a few weeks in late August and September 2017. The sudden influx had a significant impact on the environment as once-green hills were stripped bare of trees and shrubbery to make way for desperately needed shelters - leaving the slopes at serious risk of landslides and flooding.

In total there are now almost one million refugees in the area. This has led to rapid deforestation as demand for firewood saw woodland stripped bare – devastating important habitats, endangering women and children who are often tasked with collecting wood and creating health problems due to smoke inhalation.

According to the Bangladesh Forest Department around 7,000 hectares (2,800 acres) of forest has been heavily damaged as a result of the refugee influx – an issue which has provoked tensions in the local community.

To reduce a reliance on firewood for fuel, prevent further deforestation and allow forest rehabilitation to be carried out, humanitarian agencies are simultaneously providing LPG stoves to refugee and local families in the area. This innovative action has been recognized as a key step in creating a more sustainable environmental response and improving living conditions in the camps, particularly for women.

In total 240,000 stoves will be distributed – enough to reach all refugee families and a significant number of vulnerable people in heavily impacted communities. The recently launched SAFE Plus (Safe Approaches to Fuel and Energy Plus Landscape Restoration and Livelihoods) project- a partnership between IOM, FAO and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – began the distribution of LPG stoves to 125,000 families in September.

With these alternative fuel options in place, work on reforestation can be ramped up, saving the remaining topsoil and stabilizing slopes, according to FAO Emergency Program Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar Peter Agnew. “The disaster risk reduction element of reforestation work, mitigating landslides and flashfloods caused by deforestation, is key objective of the project,” he said.

“A year after this crisis began, it is heartening to see authorities, agencies, and of course refugees and local villagers, come together to work to support forest regeneration and create a healthier environment and better future for all,” said Manuel Pereira, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

“Redressing environmental damage on this scale will take time, but the speed and immense hard work of all those involved in replanting projects over the past weeks are already having a positive impact, as can be seen by the vast increase in greenery across the camps,” he added.

For more information please contact Fiona MacGregor at IOM Cox’s Bazar. Email: Tel. +88 0 1733 335221

  • Bangladesh’s Forest Department and UN agencies are reversing deforestation in Cox’s Bazar with a massive replanting programme. Photo: IOM