DHAKA – Watchtowers, marked transit corridors and response teams are some of the initiatives of a project that was launched on Friday to protect Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, where at least a dozen people have been killed in elephant attacks in recent months.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Union for Conservation of Nature jointly launched the project to prevent rising human-elephant conflict in these areas.
“We will set up 25 teams and each team will have 10-12 people. They will monitor the movement of elephant and make people aware so they won’t be attacked,” said Abdul Motaleb, ICUN Programmed manager of Biodiversity conflict mitigation around the Rohingya camps.
“We will also set up 56 watchtowers on the western side of the settlement. Each tower will have two men. They will have a solar light with them. If elephants come, they will chase them away,” he added.
The Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camp – which houses 560,000 members of the mostly-Muslim community who fled Myanmar since August last year following a violent military offensive – has been battling a sanitary and ecological crisis.
Camps have grown in an uncontrolled manner as hundreds of thousands Rohingyas crossed over and set up makeshift shelters wherever they could, causing significant damage to an area known for its rich biodiversity and green cover.
The area is also close to the main migratory routes of elephants between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Out of an estimated 268 remaining elephants of this species, around 45 live in forests that border the camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, according to a study carried out by the IUCN between Jan. 31-Feb. 13.
Since the Rohingya influx began, at least 10 people have been killed in the camp in incidents related to human-elephant conflict.
Last week, an elephant had entered the camp in the morning while people were still sleeping and killed a 12-year-old and injured another five, and destroyed many shops that fell on its route.
“Elephants always follow their traditional routes and corridors for regular movement. If they find any obstacles within it, they will destroy it,” said IUCN in the survey that was conducted to assess the scale of the problem.
The study – covering an area spread over 70 square kilometers – discovered frequent elephant movement west of Kutupalong-Balukhali, saying that refugees who lived in that area were mostly at risk.
The project includes clearly marking elephant migration routes so people would avoid them, and awareness campaigns about the conflict.
Md. Irhanullah, an IUCN spokesperson told EFE that UNHCR would finance the project, initially set to run until December.
“This partnership is critical not only to ensure the conservation of elephants but to protect the refugees, a number of whom have tragically already lost their lives,” Kevin Allen, UNHCR’s head of emergency operations in Cox’s Bazar, said in a statement.