Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has halted most of the activities in the largest refugee settlement of world, elephant watchers have been working tirelessly to keep both the refugees and elephants safe.
Analyzing HEC incidents from the previous years, it was evident that elephant activity is higher during this time of the year.
As UNHCR considers environment highly associated with the wellbeing of the refugees and all communities as a whole, human-elephant contact mitigation project has been of utmost importance even during this situation as this project not only saves lives of refugees, but also conserve elephants by saving them from retaliatory actions by refugees. As access to the camps has become stricter since the outbreak happened, elephant watchers have worked with little supervision, yet they managed to successfully manage all the human elephant conflict incidents so far. ERTs combated every odd in their way to fulfill their duty, delayed payment of salaries and borrowing equipment from others when required due to lack of maintenance and replacement facilities are only few of many. This makes us hopeful as we realize that refugees have formed a sense of ownership and they are well capable to gradually taking greater responsibilities regarding their protection.
On top of tackling two existing “Disasters”, cyclone Amphan appeared as the third one which brought together another challenge. The watch towers are bamboo-made, untreated bamboos have typically a lifetime of around 2 years. The WTs constructed back in January 2018 thus already reached their end of life making them quite risky during the cyclone season. The existing lock down paused the planned maintenance of WTs, however the predictions regarding the severity of Amphan made it urgent to dismantle 57 risky WTs within few days. Fortunately, with tremendous dedication and hard work of colleagues and volunteers, this multiplicity of disasters has been effectively dealt with till now. Thanks to the ERTs, as the new WTs are being constructed, they are not leaving the camps unguarded as they are watching from elevated places in absence of the WTs as an alternative measure.
Source: World Food Programme