The locals produced salt from this land two years ago, but they cannot do that now due to the Rohingya camps. 18 October 2019. Mochni village, Hnila, Teknaf, Cox`s Bazar. Photo: Prothom Alo
The locals produced salt from this land two years ago, but they cannot do that now due to the Rohingya camps. 18 October 2019. Mochni village, Hnila, Teknaf, Cox`s Bazar. Photo: Prothom Alo

Local residents of Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas are having to dip deep into their savings for the sake of survival. The influx of Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar has led to forests, drinking water and crop land being destroyed in the district and now the local people are on the verge of a food crisis. Some are even being forced to sell their jewellery. With the Rohingyas working for comparatively low wages, the local people are losing out on employment too.

These facts have emerged in the Global Report on Food Crises 2019, published on 15 October. The report was prepared jointly by eight organisations including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Food Policy Research Institute, USAID, World Food Programme, the European Union and UNICEF. The report’s foreword has been written by the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.

In the foreword, the UN secretary general wrote that climate-induced disasters, economic crises and armed conflict were increasing hunger rates and food insecurity. He said joint action was needed to tackle the crisis and eliminate poverty.

Highlighting the socioeconomic condition of the local people and Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar, the report stated that international agencies were providing food and other assistance to the Rohingyas. The food consumption status of 91 per cent of the Rohingyas had improved after coming to the camps, but food security for the host community showed a marked decrease. The food purchasing power of 7 out of every 10 of these families had dropped. Overall, 48 per cent of the local populace in the two upazilas did not have adequate funds to purchase food. The population of Ukhia and Teknaf is just over 550,000, while the number of Rohingyas is almost 1.1 million.

Nabi Hossain, a resident of the village Muchhuni, next to Teknaf’s Nayapara Rohingya camp, told Prothom Alo that Rohingyas had set up 22 houses on his crop land. On humanitarian grounds, he had not prevented them from doing at first. Later they erected 35 homes there. They would pay him Tk 500 a month as rent for the first few months. Now they don’t pay him anything at all and are not leaving his land. He would cultivate rice and produce salt on this land, but now is facing an acute financial crisis.

Rohingyas have set up homes on crops lands owned by the local people in Jadimura, Muchhuni, Nayapara, Leda, Damdamia, Alikhali villages of Hnila union in Teknaf. They also have set up homes on government khas land in Putibunia of Hoaikyang union.

The upazila agriculture officer Md Shahidul Islam said that with the Rohingyas setting up homes in Teknaf, vegetable and rice production had decreased. The local farmers were facing problems.

The report stated that at least 100 hectares of crop land in Teknaf and Ukhia had been damaged by Rohingya activities. Water for irrigation was unavailable. Agriculture was coming to a halt.

Pointing to the destruction of the environment in Cox’s Bazar, the report said that almost 2000 hectares of forest reserves had been destroyed along with 750,000 kg of timber, vegetation and roots.

According to the upazila fisheries office and Teknaf, a section of the local people would catch fish from the river Naf, but fishing at the river has stopped since 2017. The fishermen are now unemployed.

Speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Friday, senior secretary of the relief and disaster management minister Md Shah Kamal said that there were plans for an overall improvement of the poverty situation in Cox’s Bazar.

The report mentioned that the area where the Rohingya camps had been set up was prone to cyclone risks. Of the 1.1 million Rohingyas there, 628,000 were at extreme risk of being affected by cyclones.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, coordinator of the local NGOs working at the Rohingya camps and executive director of COAST Trust, told Prothom Alo that the Rohingya crisis had now taken shape as a development and security problem for Bangladesh. Most students are not going to the educational institutions in the Rohingya camps areas. The environment there has deteriorated and on the verge of disaster. He said, overall planning is required to save Cox’s Bazar.

* This piece appeared in Prothom Alo print edition and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.