Climate Impact Distress To Rohingya & Local Communities
Sohel Rana :
Teknaf and Ukhiya, two upazilas of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh, are disaster-prone areas. These places are frequently ravaged by natural calamities. The refugees and the local community living in these areas are one of the most climate-vulnerable populations in the country and the world as well. Torrential rain, strong storm and high tide visit almost regularly the coastline of these regions.
After the arrival of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, 6,000 acres of plantation were cleared to make lands for them to inhabit. So, they face much more flooding, flash flood, and landslides as water can penetrate the soil much quicker. According to a survey, between April and October 2019, more than 55,000 people in Cox's Bazar were affected by cyclone and rain.
Latif Ali, a fisherman of Jeliapara in Teknaf, is one of the victims of such natural calamities. He lost his accommodation due to the storm. He and his wife could save their lives as they were alarmed early by the cyclone centre where they took shelter. He also escaped death once when he went to the deep sea for fishing.
"Now we are in a little bit stress-free situation as we get some facilities in the time of cyclone and heavy rainfall. We can learn the updates of weather beforehand from nearby cyclone centres and we regularly listen to radio broadcasts," said Latif.
The local community regularly faces power disruptions in the time of disasters. But now solar panel has been established by the government and NGOs at the cyclone centre as an alternative energy source.
This facility has remarkably changed the local people's lifestyle. This has put a big impact on society, especially on the education system.
"Due to setting up solar panels, we have now alternative energy sources. So we face no disruption in the energy supply during natural disasters. As a result, we can escape the loss of lives in the time of cyclones as we are alarmed earlier by the siren system of cyclone centres. This is why we are thankful to our government and the NGOs working here," Latif added.
His son Zahangir, who is an eighth-grader at Teknaf Model High School, said, "We now have internet access at our school. So, we can easily get updates on what is happening near and far through Facebook and YouTube."
"They were deprived of basic rights after the Rohingya influx here. Realising the local community's plights, many donor agencies along with the government came forward to aid them for improving their condition," said Mishu Kanti Dey and Uashanu Marma Nayan working at cyclone centres in Teknaf and Ukhiya as field engineers for an international NGO. They informed about the reasons behind the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project of the humanitarian actors.
The DRR project is being implemented by humanitarian actors like the World Food Programme (WFP), the ICCO Cooperation, the Centre for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), and other local and international agencies along with the local government. This project aims to protect the local community by setting up timely warning systems, preparing volunteers, and empowering the community. These donor agencies are jointly working with the government for safeguarding the lives of the local people.
Anika Anan Tasnim, a humanitarian worker of the WFP, works for the disaster risk reduction (DRR) team as a programme assistant in Cox's Bazar. She believes that to strengthen the local community during a disaster and to reduce the risks, this project of Cyclone Shelter Rehabilitation would enhance the capacity to cope with disasters and to make a more resilience community. The work she is doing helps not only the Rohingya refugees but also thousands of local people.
The donor agencies have DRR projects both in the refugee camps and host communities. Their main work is to defend the local people during two cyclone seasons every year. That is why they have renovated cyclone shelters as part of their agenda for disaster risk reduction activities.
"Addressing the Covid-19 situation by installing a handwashing station is one of our new additions implemented by our partner ICCO. Not only that, but we also provided access with ramps to the shelters for the physically challenged people," said Anika.
Shakeb Nabi, country representative of ICCO Cooperation, said, "Cox's Bazar has traditionally been a disaster-prone area because of its geographical locations. Natural disasters like cyclones, flash floods, salinity intrusion, landslides and tornadoes are frequent here. The situation has been further compounded by the influx of the Rohingyas because of unsustainable pressure on natural resources like forests and water."
"We need to come out with a comprehensive approach engaging with multiple stakeholders and keeping the community at the centre of the decision-making process. We also believe that it is not the disasters which have a negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people but it is the lack of preparedness which takes a toll," he added.
The NGOs and INGOs are working to ensure infrastructural developments and enhance the capacity of local people so that they can improve their preparation capacity for natural calamities to confront any disaster, and take the lead in vigilance and lifesaving activities.
Like Latif, many others from the local communities are the beneficiaries of the different projects along with the DRR programmes. Life has changed there. They are now very resilient against any odds of life. They are confident enough to confront any adverse situation created by nature.
Especially, the young generation is very much conscious of their safety as they are enjoying more access to information due to internet availability.
Yet, they are rethinking about involving themselves in their predecessors' profession of fishing in the deep sea by risking lives. This changed attitude is the direct influence of climate change which has indeed shaped the lifestyle here.
(Mr. Rana is founder of Kinship Club)