The environment has suffered inevitable degradation as a result of the massive refugee influx following violence last August in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The 720,000 people who fled faced an initial struggle to find shelter and space to live on, leading to trees being cut for makeshift structures, and also used as fuel to cook for their families. In Kutupalong settlement, over 600,000 refugees are crammed into 13 sq. km of land. The impact is visible: deforestation, soil erosion, and exploitation of groundwater for basic survival.
UNHCR, with partners BRAC & International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have made progress by helping the environment and supporting energy needs as follows:
All the targeted families (86,400) received solar lanterns
700 street lights installed in refugee and host community areas
30 elephant response teams set up to manage human elephant conflict
Planting projects started, including trees, grasses, and vegetables
UNHCR plans to expand its use of LPG gas in camps which will have a number of impacts, including: 1) improvement of air quality in camps and household fumes harmful to health; 2) reduced burden on forest cutting and 3) enabling replanting programmes to thrive, as well as 4) improved protection of refugees who would otherwise travel to isolated areas for wood collection, including risks of sexual or gender-based violence, and exploitation. Some 800 LPG kits are planned for host communities in the coming weeks.
Further investment will be made in harnessing solar energy for water networks in Kutupalong refugee settlement. A multi-year reforestation plan with the Bangladesh Forest Department, and other partners, will be pursued. Additional solar street lights are also planned by the end of the year.