The Environmental Impact of Refugee Influx: A spatial analysis of satellite imagery of Kutupalong Refugee Settlement, 2016-2018

Authors: Erica L Nelson*, Harvard University
Topics: Environment, Human-Environment Geography, Migration
Keywords: Environmental impact, refugees, displaced populations, land use/land cover, object-based image analysis (OBIA), geographically-weighted regression, retrospective time series analysis
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Capitol Ballroom 4, Hyatt Regency, Fourth Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As of March 2019, there are over 909,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. This represents an influx of over 745,000 people in less than two years with many relocating to the largest refugee camp in the world, Kutupalong. Where resources and livelihoods are scarce, reliance on natural resources often lead to the degradation of ecological and human security and may potentiate the impact of climate change, natural hazards, and conflict. This study utilized very high resolution satellite imagery of Kutupalong between January 2016 and February 2018 and applied object-based imagery analysis using Restricted Forest Algorithms to characterize the change in land use and population influx as proxied by structure count. A Weighted Natural Resource Depletion index that integrates selected land use/land cover target classes and relative importance weights was employed to quantify the impact on human and/or ecosystem security. A subsequent application of geographically-weighted regression demonstrated high levels of ecological and/or human security degradation as attributable to human influx (aR2 94%, 91%, and 94% respectively). The degree to which refugee influx impacted ecological security portrayed significant spatial heterogeneity (p=0.01) that is easily understood and disseminated through maps. Validation of this approach through ground-based surveillance and evaluation in alternate, topologically diverse environments is critical. However, this methodology represents a novel approach to understanding and characterizing the impact of refugee influx on the environment, has the power to influence future policy and programming regarding refugee settlement management, and gives rise to a new and critical perspective on the human, conflict and environment nexus.

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