Written by: Umme Sayeda
Bangladesh receives the most humanitarian recognition for sheltering the largest number of displaced Rohingya people. However, such a humanitarian character has triggered Bangladeshi peoples’ vulnerabilities. Simultaneously, the multi-dimensional refugee catastrophe has forced many locals to migrate internally or externally to flee from the risks.
After more than three years of the massive Rohingya displacement, the sheltering district Cox’s Bazar scenario has reversed. Leaving the local populations in the minority- the Rohingyas have enhanced to the majority in the area. Unfortunately, the plights of the locals remained forgotten and unseen to the international society.
The Rohingya dilemma’s impacts: the increase in housing expenses, losses to the natural and business foundations, deepening poverty, lack of health services, food insecurity, underscored education, environmental damages, and societal security in the host community, according to a joint report of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), the regional administration of Cox’s Bazar, and the UNDP. Thus, the crisis is also influencing the entire labor market of Chittagong city where many Rohingya people are working as rickshaw pullers, garment workers, etc.
Deepening Poverty and Food Insecurity
The vast and sudden influx of such a large number of foreigners and their rehabilitation arrangement stretches ultra-poor local people’s complexities, particularly in Ukhiya and Teknaf camp areas.
At least 100 ha of farming lands were gone till 2018, whether due to the Rohingya people’s settlement or the uselessness of sand fillings. Teknaf coastal region has diminishing groundwater levels so that the local farmers in the camp areas are struggling with the lack of freshwater.
At the same time, since August 2017, due to the security issue and maintenance of the border regulation, the government has placed a prohibition on fishing in the bordering Naf River. It initially affected 35,000 households of fishers. Consequently, the district’s poverty level increased by three percent and dropped over 75,000 nationals under the extreme poverty line. According to other statistics, 33 percent of locals live below the poverty line, while 17 percent are under the extreme poverty line.
Furthermore, 2000 ha of forest reserves was damaged initially for the refugee settlements in 2017. As many of the local population were dependent on the forest resources for livelihood, the forests’ devastation deprived them of their daily earnings. Approximately 75,000 kg of vegetables and roots are gathered per day to feed and manage the refugees’ cooking combustibles. Hence, the amount is equivalent to the surface levels of four football fields.
Diversified Health-Related Vulnerabilities
Unfortunately, after the crisis began, the ultra-poor locals became deprived of pre-existing health and medical benefits facilities under various regional NGOs’ services.
In the post-influx era, insufficient healthcare facilities are accompanied by emerging health threats and the resurgence of long-unfolded diseases such as diphtheria (not testified in Bangladesh for the previous 35 years).
In Myanmar, the intensity of HIV infection is 19 times greater than in Bangladesh. About 4500 people have been reported as HIV positive among the Rohingyas. Since most households cannot conduct the requisite checks, the danger of transmitting the disease inside the Rohingya population and the locals are serious.
Environment: The Worst Victim
By its environmental deterioration and enduring ecological harm, Cox’s Bazar has paid for the worst. Initially, the Bangladesh government housed the refugee community on 6,000 acres of government property, including forests and hilly regions.
Additionally, throughout the Rohingya refugee camps, non-disposable materials (tarpaulin, aluminum, plastic, except bamboo) are commonly used as housing components. As a result, the lack of proper waste management is causing groundwater pollution. Locals, as well as the refugees, are combating terrible drinking and agricultural water scarcity due to severe groundwater pollution. Even conflict between humans and animals like elephants due to disruption of the ecological settings in the camp areas.
Vulnerabilities Concerning Literacy
The primary school attendance rate of Cox’s Bazar has dropped since the arrival of the Rohingyas. Law enforcement officials, emergency response agencies, and other organizations used premises and buildings of schools and madrasas as camps. For instance, the majority of the classrooms at Kutupalong Government Primary School, according to Headmaster Habibur Rahman, are used to provide humanitarian services to the Rohingyas. Furthermore, poor students are dropping out of education by joining the well-paid, lucrative humanitarian services.
Affected Social Structure
According to a UNDP (2019) survey, the overall minimum wages of all kinds of day laborers reduced to BDT 357 in the post-influx time from the pre-influx rate of BDT 417 at an average scale in the camp area. Simultaneously, the rate decreased by 14 percent in Teknaf and 6 percent in Ukhiya due to refugee labor’s oversupply.
Furthermore, locals also noted that the cost of a trolley ride has risen from BDT 20 to BDT 50 per passenger since the August 2017 exodus. Similarly, a two-bedroom apartment that cost BDT 3000–5000 in 2016 now requires BDT 15,000–20,000.
Accordingly, vegetable prices rose above the average selling price on the food market, making it impossible for most of the locals to buy them. In October 2017, okra’s cost increased from BDT 18–25 to BDT 115–120 a kg. In September 2017, rice prices increased from BDT 40 to BDT 50 per kg, and the cost of various varieties of seafood increased from BDT 150 to BDT 200 per kg. Though prices of commodities have steadily declined, the overwhelming number of humanitarian groups in Cox’s Bazar has raised significant challenges for the natives.
Regularly many NGOs visit and deliver the same types of necessary daily goods to the refugees. As a result, in search of cash, the refugee people used to sell the goods at a significantly cheaper rate in the local markets, injuring the local sellers’ benefits and market structure.
According to numerous newspapers, the high proportion of Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar zone has had a steady detrimental effect on local law and order. Such unfavorable frequent phenomena include arms smuggling, drug trafficking, such as Yaba, and various secret political conflicts. Simultaneously, domestic and inter-group abuse, which often results in murders and deaths, is tearing the fabric of society fragmented. The general deterioration impacts locals in law and order, which leads to a rise in drug accessibility for local youth and places the whole community at risk.
According to one of the survey respondents, Xchange, a displacement study agency, “If a huge population is constrained to an area for a long time, then crime might occur because of the need for food and shelter. Recently, such problems have been occurring in this area”. We can consider the recent co-incidental fire breaks in the Kutupalong camp as an example in this regard.
The people of Bangladesh, especially the locals of Cox’s Bazar, are fighting with the evolving challenges and problems as the outcome of the increasing number of Rohingya people and their maintenance. Consequently, Bangladesh needs an immediate and permanent solution to the crisis for its survival.
Umme Sayeda is a Policy Envoy at Youth Policy Forum (YPF). Concurrently, she is an undergraduate student at the University of Chittagong, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International Relations.