GENEVA - A tree-planting project is under way in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, to undo the environmental damage caused by the influx of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution and violence in Myanmar.
The project, spearheaded by the International Organization for Migration and Food and Agriculture Organization, has planted more than 45,000 trees and around 700,000 grass cuttings in the past two weeks. The goal is to plant 36,500 more trees and a million grass cuttings during the coming days.
The agencies report humanitarian groups in Cox's Bazar also have planted about 200,000 saplings as part of the effort to stabilize soil and replant the denuded forest area.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman says the project will help reverse the environmental damage caused by the sudden arrival of nearly half a million Rohingya refugees in August and September last year.
"Hundreds of thousands of people arrived, a lot of acreage was stripped bare for firewood. That created a huge risk factor, especially with the monsoon season coming. Landslides, avalanches, hundreds of dwellings, simple dwellings built on these muddy hills without the trees and the grass to anchor the soil. We risked a real catastrophe," Millman said.
The Bangladesh Forest Department estimates around 7,000 hectares of forest has been damaged as a result of the refugee influx, which now stands at almost one million. Aid agencies are providing the refugees and local families in the area with propane stoves to reduce reliance on firewood for fuel and to prevent further deforestation.
IOM says the tree-planting project also will be an economic boon for the Rohingya refugees and host community by providing livelihood opportunities. It says thousands of people will be engaged through IOM's cash-for-work programs to improve the environment.