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Ecological impact of Rohingya refugees on forest resources: remote sensing analysis of vegetation cover change in Teknaf Peninsula in Bangladesh

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Abstract

Satellite remote sensing technique has been used to assess the vegetation cover changes experienced by areas severely affected by Rohingya refugees in Teknaf peninsula of Bangladesh which is bordering Myanmar. Since 25 August, 2017, approximately 655,000 refugees settled in Bangladesh as of 11 December 2017. Majority of them are settled in the sub-districts of Teknaf and Ukhiya. Teknaf peninsula is an ecologically critical area. It includes the protected Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary, oneof the oldest reserved forests in Bangladesh. This vegetation at the southern coast of Bangladesh plays a vital role in the climate change adaptation and mitigation process in the region. Refugee camps and their practice of cutting trees to use as firewood for cooking cause significant deforestation. This study shows a major loss of vegetation cover following the refugee influx. The analysis of the remote sensed images provides quantitative data on the adverse impact of the refugee crisis on the natural resources and the ecosystem of the host community.
Ecocycles 4(1): 16-19 (2018) ISSN 2416-2140
DOI: 10.19040/ecocycles.v4i1.89
CASE STUDY
Ecological impact of Rohingya refugees on forest resources:
remote sensing analysis of vegetation cover change in Teknaf
Peninsula in Bangladesh
Sakib Imtiaz
Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh
E-mail address: sakibimage@gmail.com
Abstract Satellite remote sensing technique has been used to assess the vegetation cover changes experienced by areas severely
affected by Rohingya refugees in Teknaf peninsula of Bangladesh which is bordering Myanmar. Since 25 August, 2017, approximately
655,000 refugees settled in Bangladesh as of 11 December 2017. Majority of them are settled in the sub-districts of Teknaf and
Ukhiya. Teknaf peninsula is an ecologically critical area. It includes the protected Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the oldest reserved
forests in Bangladesh. This vegetation at the southern coast of Bangladesh plays a vital role in the climate change adaptation and
mitigation process in the region. Refugee camps and their practice of cutting trees to use as firewood for cooking cause significant
deforestation. This study shows a major loss of vegetation cover following the refugee influx. The analysis of the remote sensed
images provides quantitative data on the adverse impact of the refugee crisis on the natural resources and the ecosystem of the host
community.
Keywords forests, Rohingya refugees, ecology, climate change, vegetation, remote sensing
Received: January 22, 2018 Resubmitted paper received: March 9, 2018 Accepted: March 19, 2018
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Introduction
Impact of refugee crisis on the environment and natural
resource of the host community has become an emerging
issue in refugee research. Temporary shelters are often
built near environmentally sensitive areas like national
parks, reserve forests reserves, or agriculturally marginal
areas (Shepherd, 1995). Refugees often stay in their host
countries for long periods of time, having a prolonged
impact on the environment (Shepherd, 1995). On 25
August 2017, massive violence broke out in Rakhine
State, Myanmar. As of 11 December 2017, there were
nearly 860,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district
of whom 655,000 have arrived since 25 August 2017
(UNOCHA, 2017). Rohingya refugees and asylum-
seekers have arrived into Bangladesh from Myanmar in
waves since at least the 1970s (Amnesty International,
2016). The Rohingyas, who have crossed the border from
Myanmar into Bangladesh since August 25, 2017
outnumbered the local people in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-
districts of Cox’s Bazar district. According to the
population census of 2011, the total population of Teknaf
sub-district is 264,389 while that of Ukhia sub-district is
207,379 and the estimated Rohingya population stands at
over 1 million, and increases continuously (UNB, 2017).
The majority of people are settled in Teknaf and Ukhiya
sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar, a district bordering
Myanmar identified as the main entry area for border
crossing (IOM, 2017). Teknaf peninsula is an
ecologically critical area. It includes the protected Teknaf
Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the oldest reserved forests in
Bangladesh (IUCN, 2011). This vegetation plays a vital
role in the region's climate change adaptation and
mitigation process. Movement of thousands of people and
the establishment of refugee camps can have a serious
impact on local ecology, as well as on the welfare of
nearby communities (Lynch, 2002). Refugees collect
wood as fuel for cooking and for warmth and fell trees to
build shelters. As a result, land surrounding the refugee
camps may be stripped of trees and vegetation (Lynch,
2002).
Objective
The objective of the study is to assess the impact of
Rohingya refugee influx since August 25, 2017 on
vegetation cover in Teknaf peninsula using satellite
remote sensing technique.
© 2018 The Author(s). Ecocycles © European Ecocycles Society, ISSN 2416-2140 Volume 4, Issue 1 (2018)
17
Data and Methodology
1. Data
Multispectral satellite data (Landsat 08 with 30 m spatial
resolution) were used in this research. Satellite images
were collected from the same season (autumn) of four
different years (2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017) to avoid
seasonal variations.
Table 1. Data characteristics of satellite imageries
Satellite
Bands
Date of Acquisition
Landsat 8
1 to 7 and 9
28 December 2017
Landsat 8
1 to 7 and 9
23 November 2016
Landsat 8
1 to 7 and 9
07 December 2015
Landsat 8
1 to 7 and 9
04 December 2014
Source: U.S. Geological Survey Archive
2. Study Area
Teknaf sub-district (38,870 hectares) is the study area
which is located at 20.8667°N 92.3000°E. Teknaf is a
sub-district of Cox's Bazar district in the division of
Chittagong, Bangladesh. It forms the southernmost point
in mainland Bangladesh and shares the border with
Myanmar. The study excludes St. Martin's Island, a part
of Teknaf and the southernmost point of Bangladesh. The
study includes Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary (also called
Teknaf Game Reserve), a reserved forest. It comprises an
area of 11,615 hectares.
3. Methodology
The main goal of this study is to determine the vegetation
cover change of Teknaf peninsula using Normalized
Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Since Landsat-8
images were used in this study, band 5 was taken as Near
Infrared (NIR) and band 4 was taken as Red. For
calculations of the NDVI data we used the formula
NDVI= (Band 5-Band 4) / (Band 5+Band 4)
Due to lack of standardized vegetation cover
classification system for remotely sense data in
Bangladesh, the general classification scheme from the
site of United States Geological Survey (USGS 2017)
was adopted.
NDVI values range from -1.0 to 1.0. Areas of barren
rock, sand, or snow usually show very low NDVI values
(for example, 0.1 or less). Sparse vegetation such as
shrubs and grasslands or senescing crops may result in
moderate NDVI values (approximately 0.2 to 0.5). High
NDVI values (approximately 0.6 to 0.9) correspond to
dense vegetation such as that found in temperate and
tropical forests or crops at their peak growth stage.
(USGS 2017)
This technique is applied for comparison of vegetation
cover changes from multiple dates of NDVI imageries.
All the pixels with NDVI values above 0.1 were counted
for calculating total areas of vegetation. The vegetation
cover change analysis was done by determining the total
area occupied by vegetation and comparing the quantities
from different years.
Two study areas were assessed: 1) the whole
administrative area of Teknaf sub-district and 2) the
“Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary” situated within the Teknaf
sub-district. For digital image analysis remote sensed data
and GIS based software (ERDAS Imagine 2014;
developer: Hexagon Geospatial) and ArcGIS 10.5
(developer: Esri) were used. From multispectral satellite
images of the area (Landsat-8; autumns of 2014, 2015,
2016, and 2017) two subsets of images (“Teknaf sub-
district” and “Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary” shapefiles)
were created for each year. The subset images were
converted to individual NDVI maps in order to calculate
total areas of vegetation cover. These areas (expressed in
hectares) were determined by multiplying the number of
pixels by 0.09 (based on the 30 m x 30 m resolution of
the Landsat 8 images). Total areas of vegetation for the
different years were calculated, tabulated, and the yearly
changes were evaluated.
Result and Discussion
Tables 2 and 3 represent the characteristics of vegetation
cover change in Teknaf sub-district and Teknaf Wildlife
Sanctuary, respectively. The changes of vegetation cover
for each year is shown in the rightmost column of the
tables.
Table 2. Total vegetation cover of Teknaf sub-district
Year
Number
of pixels
Area
(hectare)
Area change
(hectare)
2014
290056
26105.04
-
2015
288712
25984.08
-120.96
2016
292206
26298.54
-314.46
2017
277934
25014.06
-1284.48
Table 3. Total vegetation cover of Teknaf Wildlife
Sanctuary
Year
Number
of pixels
Area
(hectare)
Change
(hectare)
2014
127200
11448.00
-
2015
127684
11491.56
43.56
2016
127417
11467.53
-24.03
2017
126274
11364.66
-102.87
This timeline analysis shows a drastic change in
vegetation cover in the year 2017 in both of Teknaf sub-
district and Teknaf Wild Life Sanctuary. Total vegetation
cover decreased by 1284.48 hectares and 102.87 hectares
in Teknaf sub-district and Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary,
respectively. In both cases total vegetation cover is less
than any other year since 2014. These changes are
significant because this impact assessment is done just
after 3.5 months of massive Rohingya influx. This
massive Rohingya influx started in Bangladesh on 25
© 2018 The Author(s). Ecocycles © European Ecocycles Society, ISSN 2416-2140 Volume 4, Issue 1 (2018)
18
August 2017. The satellite image of 2017 was acquired
on 12 December just after 3 months and 17 days. So the
Rohingya refugee influx has impact on this period of 3
months and 17 days only. If this trend continues, it will
seriously threaten the coastal forestry and overall
ecosystem.
An increase in vegetation covers in any of these years
might be the result of Social afforestation projects or
other initiatives taken in different places of Teknaf
peninsula.
Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary is an area of 11,615 hectares
that contains 538 species of plants and 613 species of
wildlife, including Asian elephants (Mannan, 2017).
Forests and trees are important in supporting community
resilience and decreasing their vulnerabilities to climate-
related stresses in different ways (Fedele et al., 2016). So
the current situation of deforestation is alarming for the
coastal resilience of Teknaf peninsula. A recently
published book entitled “Deforestation in the Teknaf
Peninsula of Bangladesh: A Study of Political Ecology”
by M. Tani and Md. A. Rahman (Tani and Rahman, 2017)
attempts to explore elucidate social factors contributing
to processes of deforestation, including poverty, migr-
ation of refugees, forest encroachment, and power
relations entailed in forest management at Teknaf
peninsula. In this book, the chapter titled “Livelihoods of
Rohingyas and Their Impacts on Deforestation” written
by M. Z. Rahman (Rahman, 2017) revealed the liveli-
hood mechanisms of undocumented Rohingyas and their
possible impacts on the forest and other natural resources,
including the Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary. Cutting woods
from hills exerted enormous negative impacts on Teknaf
Wildlife Sanctuary. Issues of concern for the Rohingyas
could only be mitigated or effectively resolved through
cordial talks held between Bangladesh and Myanmar on
these issues (Rahman, 2017).
Recommendations
The findings suggest the following:
1) NGOs and GOs should be assigned at the refugee
settlement areas only for taking care of the deforestation
issues.
2) Immediate action is needed to relocate Rohingya
refugees from protected forest area.
3) Alternative cooking technologies, such as LPG
cylinder and improved cook-stoves should be distributed
among refugees to reduce the pressure on firewood.
4) Social afforestation should be encouraged. Fast
growing tree plantations are needed to produce firewood
for Rohingyas and local communities.
5) New research must be conducted to address the critical
ecological consequences.
6) A complete policy framework is needed to deal with
natural resource management during a humanitarian
crisis.
Conclusion
A large number of Rohingyas from Myanmar migrated to
the forest areas in Teknaf imposing a great threat to its
sustainable forest maintenance. The continuously
increasing population also impacts the local resources
and the ecosystem. Forest resources are linked to many
other issues, such as biodiversity conservation, climate
change adaptation and mitigation, as well as coastal
resilience. The Rohingya influx of 2017 is a completely
new type of shock for Bangladesh. A sustainable forest
management plan must be incorporated with the
Rohingya response strategy.
Open access statement
This article has been published under a Creative Com-
mons Attribution 4.0 international license that provides
immediate open access to its content on the principle that
making research freely available to the public supports a
greater global exchange of knowledge.
Public interest statement
This study used satellite remote sensing data to assess
quantitatively the vegetation cover changes experienced
by areas severely affected by the ca. half million Roh-
ingya refugees in the Teknaf peninsula of Bangladesh.
The practice of the inhabitants of refugee camps to cut
trees for using it as firewood for cooking causes
significant deforestation. Overall, the refugee crisis
adversely impacts the natural resources and the eco-
system of the host community.
Acknowledgements
The author wishes to thank the unknown referees for their
valuable suggestions, which significantly improved the
final form of this paper.
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... grassland = 0.2-0.3, and forest = >0.3. The reclassification is based on studies by (Imtiaz, 2018;Islam, 2014;Weier and Herring, 2000). In this reclassification scheme; water covers clean and turbid water, rivers, ponds, lakes, and seawater, non-forest includes all types of land cover between water and grassland, e.g., roads, built-up areas, open land, and so on, and the bushy areas are included in grassland land cover. ...
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The livelihood sustainability of the Rohingya refugees relocated in Bhashan Char, Bang-ladesh, has been questioned by various international stakeholders due to the remoteness and perceived vulnerabilities of the island. The Bangladesh government, a few international organizations, and some non-government organizations are working on developing livelihood opportunities in there. But there is scarce study about the livelihood opportunities and challenges of the Rohingyas living there. This study explores the vulnerabilities and livelihood opportunities of Rohingyas in Bhashan Char so as to help increase their resilience. The vulnerabilities include natural, geographical , and climatic shocks and stresses (e.g., cyclone, floods, storm surge, sea-level rise, geographical position). However, there are ample opportunities for their livelihood development, despite some challenges which can be overcome with concerted efforts. The opportunities include intensification and extensification of livelihood activities, such as modern agriculture, fish farming, livestock rearing , small business, handicraft, fishing net mending, crab fattening, biofloc aquaculture, and fish cage culture, but turning these opportunities into reality requires sufficient investment and internationally positive attitude. Better shelter, better disaster preparedness, cultural practices, education, and skill development can increase their capacity to bounce back, absorb shocks, and make them more resilient. National and international humanitarian organizations should plan to enhance the resilience of the Rohingya communities living in Bhashan Char and the island itself so that they can sustain in the long run, even after their anticipated repatriation to Myanmar.
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Survival is the only priority of refugees and the hosting nations are often bound to address the problem of refugee crises within a short period of time without any proper planning. As a result, related environmental aspects remain overlooked until the refugees and host population begin to suffer from the consequences of the resultant degradation. The present review is the first-ever attempt to develop comprehensive insights into the environmental impacts of refugees in South Asia, Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. This has been done through the survey of secondary information obtained from peer-reviewed publications, e-media portals, and websites of humanitarian agencies. It was found that that the influx of refugees and their activities lead to the degradation of land, air, and water; depletion of land and water resources; forest destruction; waste generation; and several other environmental problems in host countries. Any initiative or policy to support refugees in host countries should always take environmental aspects into account.
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This article discusses the impact of Rohingya refugee settlements on the local environment and increasing social tensions between the refugees and local residents. Drawing on the qualitative field data from Rohingyas, local residents and various government and non-government organisations, it focuses on the root causes of the environmental loss. It also portrays the viewpoints of both Rohingyas and locals on the socio-environmental crisis. The study found that the massive Rohingya influx created a severe pressure on the local environment in Cox’s Bazar while most of the cultivable lands, hills and forestlands were occupied for their settlements. They have put the local wildlife and the entire ecosystem at risk, and disrupted the ecological habitations. Apart from endangering environment and biodiversity, the Rohingyas’ frequent access to natural resources has fuelled socio-economic tensions between the locals and the Rohingyas. However, there is a growing tendency of generalization in blaming the Rohingyas for socio-environmental crisis in all sphere due to their visible interactions with the environmental resources. The study argues that as the blaming approach does not help; the root causes should be redressed through the socio-economic and environment-friendly plans and policies to find a sustainable solution to the crisis.
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About 930,000 Rohingya people were migrated in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh following the ethnic cleansing violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. They built their camps by clearing the natural forests and social forestry plantations which was one of the important natural habitat and corridor of critically endangered wild Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Bangladesh. The Rohingya people extensively collected timber and fuelwood for construction and cooking from the forests and destroyed nearly 2,000 hectares of forest land. As a result, in search of food and route for natural movement, E. maximus entered into the camps, destroyed the settlements and a severe human-elephant conflicts arose resulted in 13 refugees were killed and nearly 50 people were injured. Studies revealed that there are 48 E. maximus is roaming around the camps, and all most all the incidents occurred during the dawn time where male and children were the main victims. Government, aid agencies and NGOs are operating in the field to take on the state of affairs. They commenced to enhance consciousness, setting up 56 watchtowers and 30 volunteer elephant response teams to warn residents when elephants enter the camp. Reduction in demand of fuelwood through supplementing the alternative fuel, reforestation with native and fruit-bearing tree species, agroforestry practices, plantation of elephant preferred fodder species, ensure safe trans-boundary corridors, and non-forestry income-generating activities can reduce and mitigate the Rohingya and. E. maximus conflicts.
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Rural communities have long been using ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods, especially in times of disasters when forests act as safety nets and natural buffers. However, it is less clear how climate variability influences changes in land uses, and their implications for human well-being. We examined how forests and trees can reduce human vulnerability by affecting the three components of vulnerability: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. A total of 24 focus group discussions and 256 household surveys were conducted in two smallholder-dominated rural landscapes in Indonesia, which were affected by floods, drought and disease outbreaks. Our results suggest that forests and trees are important in supporting community resilience and decreasing their vulnerabilities to climate-related stresses in different ways. The role of trees varied according to the type of ecosystem service, whether provisioning or regulating, in relation to the phase of the climatic hazard, either in the pre-disaster phase or in the post-disaster recovery phase. It is therefore important to distinguish between these elements when analyzing people’s responses to climatic variability in order to fully capture the contribution of forests and trees to reducing people’s vulnerability. Landscape spatial characteristics, environmental degradation and community awareness of climate variability are crucial because if their linkages are recognized, local people can actively manage natural resources to increase their resilience. Interventions related to forests and trees should take into consideration these aspects to make ecosystem services a valuable option for an integrated strategy to reduce disaster risks and climate-related vulnerabilities.
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I The collection of fuelwood by large numbers of internally displaced people and refugees for the purpose of providing energy for food preparation and cooking can cause environmental devastation and adversely affect the socio-economic balance with local populations. There is no simple solution. Reducing environmental impact, and thus easing societal tensions, requires addressing a complex set of issues including supply of and demand for natural resources, aid agency operations, willingness to utilize refugee knowledge and experience, the effects of forced displacement, poverty, and lack of land. The key to establishing sustainable solutions, whether fuel or non-fuel alternatives, requires being able to identify and understand the interaction between human needs and behaviour and the local environment. This paper explores the scope of the problem and offers case examples, describes efforts taken and alternatives available, presents outcomes of evaluations that have been performed, and outlines lessons learned to be used in future crises.abstract
Book
This book presents a political ecology study on deforestation in the Teknaf Peninsula of Bangladesh. The study's aim was to elucidate social factors contributing to processes of deforestation, including poverty, migration of refugees, forest encroachment, and power relations entailed in forest management. The individual analyses presented in the book are entirely based on primary information obtained through original field work conducted over a period of 7 years, and on remote sensing using satellite imagery and GIS techniques. The second half of the book considers reforestation approaches such as social and homestead forestry that have wider applications within developing countries. © Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018. All rights reserved.
Chapter
This chapter focused primarily to reveal a comprehensive picture of the livelihood mechanisms of undocumented Rohingyas and their possible impacts on the forest and other natural resources, including the Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS). A cluster of Rohingyas with this status were selected for the study. This group lives along the Bay of Bengal coastline in the village of Shamlapur in Teknaf Upazila, which falls within the district of Cox’s Bazar. A sample of 125 household heads was randomly selected from a total of 980 households. Additionally, data were collected from 65 Rohingya household heads of Kerontoli village of Teknaf, which is located alongside the Naf River and the TWS. The Rohingya of this area lives among the local community. Data were primarily generated from interviews and focus group discussions. The livelihood status of most of the Rohingyas was found to be very low, with their occupations resulting in the destruction of natural resources. Status of livelihoods regarding all the capitals was very low for Rohingyas of both the study sites. Illegal migration of Rohingya to Bangladesh and their immediate job opportunities in the vicinity of deweling places dertmined their livelihood patterns. Random fishing in water bodies (sea and river) and cutting woods from hills exerted enormous negative impacts on sea and TWS. Moreover, the exhaustive livelihoods created bad competitions with local dwellers. The analysis indicated that issues of concern for the Rohingyas could only be mitigated or effectively resolved through cordial talks held between Bangladesh and Myanmar on these issues.
Saving our forests, and all creatures who dwell in them
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United News Bangladesh. Rohingya people outnumber locals in Ukhia
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Community based adaptation in the ecologically critical areas of Cox's Bazar -Teknaf Peninsula and Sonadia Island -through biodiversity conservation and social protection
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IUCN (2011) Community based adaptation in the ecologically critical areas of Cox's Bazar -Teknaf Peninsula and Sonadia Island -through biodiversity conservation and social protection. 19