Cox’s Bazar, 19 January 2019
With about 240,000 displaced Rohingya families taking shelter in the camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, the demand for bamboo to address urgent humanitarian shelter needs is outpacing supply — putting enormous pressure on the local environment. According to a recent study by the Shelter/NFI sector in Cox’s Bazar, over 22 million sticks of bamboo have been used by humanitarian actors for construction to date. Because of dwindling supply, much of this bamboo has been low quality with viability of only 2-3 years — meaning that it will have to be replaced within the next 20 months.
To address this problem, UNHCR, in collaboration with BRAC, broke ground on Bangladesh’s first large-scale bamboo treatment plant in Cox’s Bazar in November 2018. The treatment process increases lifespan of borak bamboo, which is used for load-bearing support in shelters, to 10-12 years by protecting it from insects, fungi and other biological and physical elements.
On Saturday, 19 January, the new bamboo treatment plant, located in Camp 4 Extension at the Kutupalong camp site, was opened by Mr. Mohammad Abul Kalam, chief of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, Mr. Marin Din Kajdomcaj, Head of Operations, UNHCR, Cox’s Bazar, and Mr. Mohammed Abdus Salam, Head of BRAC’s Humanitarian Crisis Management Programme.
Mr. Abul Kalam said, “Anyone who visits the camp will notice that bamboo is used as the main material for the construction everything. By extending the lifespan of the bamboo, this treatment plant will drastically increase the durability of the physical structures in the camps and reduce the environmental impact at the same time. Sustainability is a priority going forward, and the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner will continue to work with partners to develop similar projects which cares for the environment, the human element and the necessary rationalization of already scarce natural and financial resources.”
“UNHCR, while responding to growing humanitarian crises around the world keeps the importance of protecting and preserving the environment in and around refugee sites the highest priority. Here, in one of the largest refugee camps, a balance between growing assistance needs and preservation of environment is achieved through the combination of traditional and innovative techniques and tapping into green energy in its responses to the needs of both refugees and vulnerable families amongst the host community. This plant is a good example of the said efforts, made possible through our joint cooperation with the government of Bangladesh and partner BRAC” , said UNHCR’s Marin Din Kajdomcaj.
“This initiative is of great benefit to both host communities and Rohingya people living in the camps in Cox’s Bazar”, said BRAC’s Mohammed Abdus Salam. “When we increase the lifespan of the bamboo, we reduce pressure on the environment, and support safe and dignified living conditions for the Rohingya people.”
BRAC estimates that each plant will produce about 2,400 pieces of treated borak bamboo monthly. Daily, about 20 Rohingya labourers prepare the poles of borak for treatment in a 1:1 solution of boric and borax. The bamboo is soaked in the solution for 10 to 15 days, then then dried for an additional 3-4 days. Extensive research over many years shows that the boric-borax solution is neither hazardous to humans nor to the environment, including groundwater, soil, plants and animals. UNHCR and BRAC plan to scale up production with construction of five additional plants in Ukhiya and Teknaf. BRAC estimates that 10,800-12,000 pieces of borak bamboo will go under treatment by the end of February.