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 Sunday (Apr 1).
The UN says about 150,000 refugees in Bangladesh’s southeast – where nearly one million Rohingya in total live in shanties on hillsides – are extremely vulnerable to disease and disaster this rainy season.
Humanitarian groups have been racing to reinforce the basic shelters erected hastily by the Rohingya as they fled across the border after a fierce army crackdown on the community in western Myanmar.
Nearly 700,000 refugees have crossed the border since August into the Cox’s Bazar region, clearing trees and packing whole hillsides with unstable shanties.
Bangladesh’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 told AFP.
Bangladesh had allocated roughly 14 sq km 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 told AFP.
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,” he said.
Monsoon rains wreak havoc every year in Cox’s Bazar and the adjacent Chittagong Hill Tracts, a tropical forest zone home to wild elephants.