22 January 2018
The risk of landslides in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh
One of the great tragedies of the last two years has been the dreadful, systematic ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar / Burma. The murders, assaults, rapes and thefts are well-documented; the consequence has been that over 600,000 people have fled across the border into Bangladesh. There they have been forced to build refugee camps in the vicinity of Cox’s Bazar, turning forested hillslopes into basic living spaces. At least 300,000 Rohingya people people are thought to be living on slopes. The hilly regions of Bangladesh are prone to landslides in the monsoon season. Unsurprisingly, there are growing concerns about the threat to these people posed by landslides in the next monsoon.
The scale of the change of the landscape is simply extraordinary. Over the weekend I took a look at the Planet Labs imagery of the area around the refugee camp at Balukhali, so the south of Cox’s Bazar. This is a 3 m resolution Planet Labs image of this area, collected on 25th November 2016. Balukhali can be seen in the southeast corner; most of the landscape is covered in forest. The image is about 4.5 km from east to west:-
This is the same area in a Planet Labs image collected on 20th January 2018 (i.e. two days ago):-
The change is extraordinary. A vast area of forest has been removed and converted to temporary accommodation. The landscape impact is immense; it is hard to imagine to conditions. The Daily Observer has an image of the camp, with a dramatic illustration of the landslide potential:-
Note the buildings at the crown and toe of active landslides. Whilst the threat from the landslides pales into insignificance alongside the dreadful events of the last two years for the Rohingya people, there is the potential for substantial loss of life from multiple landslides in the next few rainy seasons.
Planet Team (2017). Planet Application Program Interface: In Space for Life on Earth. San Francisco, CA. https://api.planet.com