Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Monsoon black clouds cause panic among Hill people


With fresh landslides in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Chittagong and Moulvibazar, fear runs through residents of fresh landslides as monsoon rain lashes the hills.

Heavy monsoon rain may cause flooding across northeastern India and Bangladesh, triggering mudslides early this week, international weathermen predicts.

"An additional 75-150 mm rainfall with locally higher amounts threatens to further inundate parts of eastern Bangladesh and northeastern India," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said. The additional downpours will continue the high threat for mudslides and flash flooding across the region. 

Fresh landslides cause rise of death tolls and destruction of road infrastructure, power lines and human settlements. The death toll in the hills has risen to 161.Most of the victims are from poor and indigenous communities living close to the hills. They were buried under tons of earth and mud while they were asleep at night. The landslides devoured and blocked all roads to picturesque tourist town Rangamati. 

The disaster occurred just weeks after Cyclone Mora lashed Bangladesh's southeastern coast, killing at least seven and wrecking tens of thousands of homes.Following the deadly mudslides from earlier this week, more lives and property will be at risk as heavy monsoon rain threatens to further inundate Bangladesh through this week, predict weathermen.

The hills in Chittagong region consist of sandy soil which is mixture of sand and soil, and is weak in nature, not of stone.

Roots of trees and grass growing on these hills hold the surface apparently tight but due to continuous hill cutting, felling of trees and building houses, the hills have turned naked, rifts are being created on top and their slopes.

As a result heavy rain makes the surface loose, soil melts, sand gets removed, and rifts widen which cause inevitable landslide claiming loss of lives of human beings and animals, destruction of wealth, disruption of communication, power failure and so on.

Government is the owner of hills, canals, rivers, and forest, etc. There are seven hills in Chittagong under the ownership of six government departments.

But occupying these hills illegally some vicious circles are earning huge amount of money from there. Owners of these hills are sometimes helpless to the illegal occupiers.

In 2007, after deaths of 127 persons, a committee formed under the Chairmanship of Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong submitted a report, identifying 28 reasons for landslide in hills and suggested 66 recommendations but all those are in cold storage for the last 10 years.

First published in The Asian Age, July 20, 2017

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA), is an award winning investigating journalist and is Special Correspondent, The Asian Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Repair of roads to Rangamati would take weeks


Rangamati is cut off from rest of the Bangladesh. The unprecedented landslides in Rangamati which damaged the vital road infrastructures to and from the picturesque hill town.

Two roads which connect Rangamati have been devoured in the landslides during torrential rains in advent of monsoon.

Already, Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud, Minister, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) Bir Bahadhur, State Minister, Secretary of MoCHTA, Bikram Kishore Tripura, Additional Secretary Kamal Talukder, Joint Secretary, MoCHTA, Sudatta Chakma, are in Rangamati to assess the situation.

The Ministers and senior officials in Rangamati held coordination meetings with officials of the district administration officials and Bangladesh Army and that the crucial road communication “will take a long time to repair”, wrote Bikram Kishore Tripura in Facebook on Saturday.

A crucial meeting of Relief and Rehabilitation Coordination was held on Friday at Deputy Commissioner, Rangamati's Conference Room. The meeting was attended by Tarun Ghosh, Vice Chairman, Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board (CHTDB), Brig Gen Faruk, Region Commander, Rangamati, Ushaton Talukdar MP, Chakma Circle Chief Barrister Debashish Roy, Riaz Ahmad, Director General, Disaster Management, Rangamati Police Chief Syed Tariqul.

The Secretary also wrote that at “the moment Rangamati is [only] accessible through waterways from Kaptai.”

The death tolls of the massive landslides have killed more than 100 people and nearly 40 are still missing. Rescue operation is going round the clock to find any survivors.

Meanwhile, Rangamati District Administration has banned procession and rallies in the Hill district for a month.

Some has also posted in Bikram Kishore Tripura’s Facebook that the nature has taken its revenge for man-made deforestation, hill-cutting to build houses and agriculture farms.

Former Conservator of Forest, Mihir Kiran, writes: “Very sad and heart breaking. Demographic balance is must for the soil condition of the region. Otherwise we have to face the same unbearable fate every year.”

Tripura in a response said: Ideal but difficult to implement. You (Mihir Kiran) were one of the longest serving CCF of FD. You had the experience of failure in plantation in CHT, of course it was our collective failure, not at all personal. Nature has given us a grim signal. We must act without further delay. Time is running out fast.

However, Kirti Nishan Chakma writes in Facebook that “We can and must dissect the causes that has led to this tragedy. But this can wait a little later.”

“Urgent help is needed at the moment. There is a real risk of crisis of the essentials (rice, dal, salt, medicines, etc.) as that the two roads that connects Rangamati to the rest of the country are now completely cut off and repairing them is likely to take a long time given the hilly terrain,” opines writes Kirti Nishan Chakma, General Secretary at Moanoghar a home for distressed children in the Hills.

“A real scarcity of the essentials, maybe it is panic buying or hoarding by the people that is exhausting the available stocks, maybe it the typical dishonest traders who are trying to make quick bucks on the back of this catastrophe. Whatever are reasons, immediate interventions by the government is needed,” writes General Secretary at Moanoghar.

Already the price of the essentials is rising. It is not only Rangamati town, the entire or most of the Rangamati district could be affected.

However, the MoCHTA Secretary affirms that the government will do the needful for the relief, rehabilitation of the distressed people and repairs and reconstruction of the infrastructures. We have to have some patience.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA), is an award winning investigating journalist and is Special Correspondent, The Asian Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh