UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies in Cox’s Bazar are working on sustainable solutions to mitigate the impacts of environmental degradation for refugees and the host communities and therefore to minimize protection risks. The immediate goals are to stop deforestation and restore wildlife habitat, as well as improve access to safe water and cleaner fuel in refugee settlements. The massive influx of refugees in August 2017 has put an enormous strain on the environment in Cox’s Bazar district that hosts the majority of the Rohingya refugee population. Since over 725,000 refugee women, men, girls and boys struggled to find shelter and secure fuel, many trees have been cut and used as materials to build makeshift structures and cooking fuel.
The impacts are visible – hills and lands were denuded of vegetation that exposes the refugee settlements to risks of landslides and soil erosion; wildlife areas were encroached on; and groundwater has been exploited for basic survival.
UNHCR i) distributes LPG and cooking sets to both refugees and host families as an eco-friendly alternative cooking fuel with private sector partners; ii) plans trees with BRAC to help regenerate vegetation, stabilise land and control erosion in refugee settlements; iii) mitigates human-elephant conflict in collaboration with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); iv) installs street lights; and v) constructs water supply systems within the settlements that will benefit both refugee and host communities.