In 2017, after the arrival of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the hilly forest had to be cut down. In addition, the lack of cooking fuels forced the refugees to cut more trees.
In 2018, UNHCR and its partners set out a project to restore the forest ecosystem and stabilize hillsides by planting a fast-growing indigenous species of trees, shrubs and grasses.
More than 3,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya refugees have received training on how to manage tree nurseries, plant and care for seedlings, and protect the young trees.
After three years of the project, the refugees have replanted an area of more than 600 hectares – nearly twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Grasses have also been planted in streams to help treat wastewater and reduce pollution levels.
A Rohingya refugee working with UNHCR’s energy and environment unit in Cox’s Bazar, Abdul Maleque, said, “After three years you can see the camps are so green. The insects, pollinators and other wildlife are coming back. Trees are providing shade, and refugees are enjoying better living conditions. Now, our target is to protect the existing greenery. For that, we are trying to engage more refugees to protect the trees.”
On the other hand, in 2020 in the Kutupalong Refugee camp, UNHCR and partners launched the ‘vertical gardening’ concept. The concept is to turn the rooftops of the refugees’ shelters into vegetable gardens.
In 2020 one thousand households received seeds and training to implement the vertical gardening concept and this year an additional one thousand will get similar support.
Kefayetullah, his wife Fatima and their two children have been living in Kutupalong camp for more than three years. Kefayetullah whose left hand is disabled was having a difficult time supporting his family. However, after starting rooftop gardening, they are producing more vegetables than they can eat.
“I can’t do it alone, my wife helps. I plough with one hand and plant the seeds. My wife brings water and I water the plants,” he said.
Kefayetullah sells the family’s surplus vegetables at a local market in the camp so he can buy other things. “Apart from fish, meat and other groceries, I sometimes buy clothes for my family and I also share with my relatives,” he added.
Unlike many others, Kefayetullah dreams that one day it will be possible to safely return to Myanmar. Until then, his rooftop garden is providing nutrition for his family and allowing him to gain new skills.