The water levels around the Rohingya camps have fallen by around 5 to 9 metres because of excessive dependence on groundwater in the areas where forcibly displaced people have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar, according to a recent study of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“To supply water to the Rohingyas, around 5,731 tube-wells were installed between August and December 2017. This excessive dependence on groundwater is lowering the water levels in the area,” said the study report titled ‘Impacts of the Rohingya Refugee Influx on Host Communities’ released on July 25, 2019.
It reveals that freshwater options in the affected areas are extremely limited, particularly in Teknaf (Cox’s Bazar) and Naikhongchhari (Bandarban), where the bedrock surface at 25-30 metres below ground level makes deep tube-wells a costly option for the locals.
Irrigation wells are slowly drying up as the water table is falling as a result of watershed destruction and a significant reduction in the recharge of groundwater reserves, the study reveals, adding that continued pressure on the aquifer may result in salt water intrusion rendering it unusable.
About the impacts of Rohingya influx on land and agricultural production, the study shows that between August 2017 and March 2018, over 100 hectares of crop land in Teknaf and Ukhiya were damaged by refugee activities, in addition to 76 hectares of arable land that has been occupied by Rohingya settlements and humanitarian agencies.
Around 5,000 acres of land have been rendered useless because of sandy soil flowing down from the mountain slopes, which are being used for refugee housing purposes. Grazing lands have been destroyed.
Teknaf has always faced a lack of freshwater for agricultural production. Faecal contamination is now present in more than four-fifths of sources, and 93 hectares of arable land around the Rohingya camps cannot be cultivated. An additional 380 hectares of land cannot be cultivated owing to lack of water for irrigation, according to the study.
In Teknaf, one in every three people was involved in fishing. Since August 2017, a ban has been in place on fishing in the Naf River, for security reasons, putting significant pressure on around 30,000-35,000 fishers and their families.
The study says many fishers have been compelled to work as wage labourers, but the surge of Rohingya workers has led to lower job availability and lower daily wages and that is why the fishing communities of the Naf River are likely to be among the groups most affected by the Rohingya crisis.
The Rohingya influx is also taking a heavy toll on environmental in Cox’s Bazar. According to the Cox’s Bazar Forest Department, the influx destroyed about 4,818 acres of forest reserves worth US$ 55 million.
In many cases, those who earn a living from forest resources have been deprived of their livelihood. Every day, around 750,000 kilograms of timber, vegetation and roots are collected as cooking fuel. Many species of wildlife are also coming under threat, according the UNDP study.