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“There is no other option” – The rationalisation of the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar

Bayes Ahmed7 December 2020

Written by Dr Md. Touhidul Islam and Tanzina Rahman, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The 2017 Rohingya exodus made Bangladesh a host of more than 850,000 new Rohingyas, becoming the fifth-largest forced displacement in the world.  They were forced to leave their homes at the Rakhine State in Myanmar and were also confronted with crimes against humanity, atrocities and genocide. The host community in Bangladesh responded with compassion by welcoming and supporting them. The scale of the influx, however, has made a profound impact on the hosting communities, largely in the greater Cox’s Bazar area. The two Upazilas, i.e., sub-districts, of Cox’s Bazar – Ukhia and Teknaf – had to withstand supporting most of the weight of accommodating the Rohingyas. Now, the Rohingyas outnumber the local population in these two areas. So, the humanitarian impulse to help soon turned out to be a life-changing event for many residents living in these communities. The needs of the Rohingyas were officially addressed by the Government in Bangladesh, local and international NGOs, donors and several UN agencies. However, the spill-over impacts, e.g., environmental degradation, price-hike, decreased wages and strain in the relationship between the host community and the Rohingyas just began to draw attention.

For the host communities in Ukhia and Teknaf, the results of this massive exodus can be described as a change in everyday’s lifestyle at best and a threat to survival at worst. They have dealt with an array of challenges in the economic, environmental, socio-cultural, and institutional spheres of their lives. Concurrently, they have dealt with the alterations in their own ways. They did not only try switching to the next best option available in addressing the changes in their lives but also rationalised their course of actions. What was the logic behind this rationalisation? The need to adjust had come from a mindset of lacking a better alternative.

We went on a field-trip in 2019 to collect micro-narratives from the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf. They vividly described the impacts of the 2017 Rohingya influx on their personal lives and how it affected their whole community. Some of their rationalisations are primarily centred on the notion of not having any other option than just to adjust – human life being equivalent to struggle and adaptation skills being a part of human nature. Having faith in one’s creator and surviving for the sake of one’s loved ones were other patterns of rationalisation that the residents described in their narratives. The notion of not having the availability of a better option and accommodate with the situation can be an excruciating challenge for the residents, once their limit reaches the threshold.

Karim (a pseudonymous name), who is a 32-year-old driver and lives in Whykong, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, shared his version of life before and after the Rohingya influx. Though there were Rohingyas from the previous inflows, he did not know much about them before 2017 as they made no significant impact on his daily life. Once the unexpected turns of events such as drug dealings, theft and robbery began to occur, he began feeling insecure. The impacts such as social deterioration (e.g. extramarital affairs and sexual harassment of girls) and cultural change were appalling to him. How did he come to terms with it? Karim says that there is nothing that he could do about it.

“We are a victim of this situation. We had to accept everything because we were under pressure. We have accepted all these as a part of our everyday lives. As long as the Rohingyas will live here, the problems will remain. So, instead of ignoring it, we have decided to deal with it.”

Karim has no real solution for other challenges he faces in every different dimension of life. He complains about the weather changing, and he acknowledges the animals being extinct. In light of all these changes, he sees himself as an ordinary person who is only capable of somehow adjusting to the situation which has been thrown upon them. People like Karim have subjugated to the physical changes in the environment and the socio-economic aspects like the price-hike of essential daily commodities.

A positive thought that he mentioned is co-existence, i.e., the acknowledgement of the host community and the Rohingya community living side by side. But making it a habit to adjust is crucial when there is no better alternative for them. Karim says: 

“Where can we go if we leave our village? We do not have any options to go anywhere. We are bound to accept these problems as long as they are living here. …They will not find a place to live in other districts outside Cox’s Bazar. They have found a place to live in Cox’s Bazar. I do not think there are any other empty places where they can be accommodated. It would not have been a problem if this was an issue for a few days. But, they have been living here for 2-3 years. Many Rohingyas have been living here for 30-40 years. And we have learned to adjust. I think we have to adjust if we live together. So it has become a habit to adjust to things. There is no other option.”

Karim has no other places to go to if he leaves his village. He, however, reassures himself by saying the best option is to adjust to whatever living conditions they are being subjected to – a dark cloud of thoughts for the future hovers over him. He acknowledges the fact that the situation is likely to worsen. He narrates his thoughts on the future by saying:

“The current situation makes us think that the future will be very difficult. In the manner the prices of water, fuel, travel fare and others are increasing this will be likely to continue in the future. We have to spend less on things sometimes, and sometimes we can spend as much as we like. We will have to manage according to what situation Allah puts us in.”

Karim perhaps knows where he stands on adapting to life after the Rohingya influx of 2017. For assisting the Rohingyas, his view is that plenty has been done and now it needs to stop. The dark future that he envisions does not always stay on his mind. He goes about his life, believing the future is unpredictable and anything can happen. Karim narrates his thoughts:

“Let everything go on like it is. We will see what happens later on. We will adjust to it when it happens.”

Karim chooses to adjust because he cannot find an alternative option not to. One may wonder if he will realise the flaws in his survival strategy!

Authors’ Affiliations:

Acknowledgement: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project,Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Mountains Matter

Myles Harris1 December 2020

Mountains are often described as harsh, desolate environments that few people choose to venture to. Yet since 2003, 11th December is the United Nations International Mountain Day. This raised the question, why do mountains warrant a day of recognition? Perhaps it is because 27% of the Earth’s land surface is mountainous, which is home to approximately 1.1 billion people and that more than half of the fresh water humankind is dependent on is from a mountain source [1]. With this in mind, it is clear mountains are integral to our life on Earth, but is there much life in the mountains?

Mountain range sunsetThe remoteness of mountain regions enable ecosystems to develop in isolation and the variety of micro-environments on each mountain (altitude, topography and weather) enrich the life that thrives there [2]. Despite low levels of oxygen, challenging terrain and exposure to extreme weather, the biodiversity of mountains includes mammals, birds, insects, not to mention unique plants, vegetation and crops, all of which is in balance with human life at ground level [3]. International Mountain Day is about celebrating the importance of mountains and this year the spotlight is on mountain biodiversity. However, International Mountain Day 2020 is also about creating awareness of how mountain biodiversity requires protection.

The impact of climate change and unsustainable living reaches even the remotest mountain environments and is causing significant damage to their ecosystems [4]. Physically, glaciers are melting and landslides are more common, which is contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The deterioration of biodiversity in the mountains has negative consequences for the life that has existed there for millennia and the local communities who depend on it. As a result, the United Nations sustainable development goal 15 (target 1) concentrates on the sustainable management and conservation of mountain biodiversity [5]. International strategy and cooperation is a positive step forward, but more research is needed to understand and inform disaster risk reduction for the protection of mountain biodiversity. A recent example is COVID19 – lockdowns were predicted to have positive effects on the climate; however, greenhouse gases have continued to rise [6] which accelerates biodiversity damage in the mountains.

Research of mountain-related phenomena can involve going into mountain environments and visiting communities who live there. Each mountain environment is unique, therefore a localised-approach to research reduces the risk of local communities and ecosystems being overlooked [7]. However, mountain conditions are dynamic and unpredictable. Providing healthcare to researchers and local communities in these circumstances is extremely challenging. Figure 1 is photo of a medical tent on an expedition in a remote region of the Nepalese Himalayas, with the Doctor (right) and Nurse (left) who provided healthcare to a team of 15 (including themselves). With limited resources and environmental challenges, healthcare providers require the capability of acute emergency interventions (if needed) and prolonged field care (healthcare).

A doctor and nurse standing on a mountain, with a medic-tent in the background.

Figure 1.

Prolonged field care is a newly recognised area of clinical practice and can be described as the provision of healthcare beyond expected duration and with limited resources to mitigate the risk of patient morbidity and mortality [8]. Military healthcare systems have been developing this concept during the past few years due to the paradigm shift in military deployment and healthcare provision [9]. However, civilian services are beginning to develop this area of practice too. Remote Area Risk International ® have developed a civilian prolonged field care course, which is relevant to expedition, wilderness and mountain medicine [10]. Training and research of prolonged field care contributes to disaster risk reduction in mountainous environments,which promotes the health of researchers and local communities.

It is clear that although mountains appear to be everlasting, the impact of climate change and unsustainable living is damaging. However, the protection of all mountains and their biodiversity, informed by valid and reliable research, will enhance their resilience and contribute to sustainable development for all. #MountainsMatter 

References

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2019) Mountains matter. [online]. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca6779en/ca6779en.pdf [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[2] United Nations. (2020) International mountain day 11 December. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/mountain-day [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[3] Mountain Partnership. (2015) Mountain biodiversity. [online]. London: Mountain Partnership. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/our-work/focusareas/biodiversity/en/ [Accessed 10 November 2020].

[4] World Meteorological Organization. (2019) Avoiding the impending crisis in mountain weather, climate, snow, ice and water: pathways to a sustainable global future. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: http://www.fao.org/mountain-partnership/publications/publication-detail/en/c/1253730/ [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[5] United Nations. (2015) Protect, restore and remote sustainable se of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reserve land degradation and halt biodiversity loss: mountains. [online]. New York: United Nations. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/topics/mountains. [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[6] World Meteorological Organization. (2020) United in science 2020: a multi-organization high-level compilation of the latest climate science information. [online]. Geneva: World Meteorological Organization. Available at: https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[7] Mountain Research Initiative. (2018) Leaving no one in mountains behind: localising the SDGs for resilience of mountain people and ecosystems. [online]. Bern: Mountain Research Initiative. Available at: https://www.mountainresearchinitiative.org/images/MRI_Publications/Issue_Brief_Leaving_No_One_in_Mountains_Behind.pdf [Accessed 11 November 2020].

[8] Keenan, S. (2015) Deconstructing the definition of prolonged field care, Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 15 (4), p. 125.

[9] Smith, M. and Withnall, R. (2017) Developing prolonged field care for contingency operations, Trauma, 20 (2), pp. 108-112.

[10] Remote Area Risk International. (2020) Prolonged field care – welcome to the home of civilian PFC in the UK. [online]. Wirral: Remote Area Risk International. Available at: https://www.r2rinternational.com/prolongedfieldcareuk [Accessed 12 November 2020].