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10 June, 2019 10:26:24 AM
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No let-up in hill cutting causing hill slides and loss of lives

The mudslides are reported to be amongst the most lethal in Bangladesh's recent history, and are widely attributed to the combination of the heavy rainfall and environmental degradation caused by unregulated deforestation
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
No let-up in hill cutting causing hill slides and loss of lives

Hill cutting and hill slashing is going on unabated in Chittagong and other hill regions of the country. Landslides are caused often due to indiscriminate cutting and leveling of hills in those regions. Not only in the hill districts alone, hills are being cut and leveled in Chittagong city's Bangla Bazar, Salimpur, Biswa Colony, North Khulshi, South Khulshi and Bayezid areas. Not only the musclemen and politically influential persons but also organisations like Chittagong City Corporation (CCC), Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) and Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (CWASA) are involved in cutting and leveling hills in certain areas of the region.
Hundreds of illegal houses were built cutting and leveling hills at Salimpur along the border of the port city and Sitakunda upazila. The CCC cut hills for developing three housing projects while the CDA destroyed hills for constructing Bayezid-Faujdarhat By-pass Road and CWASA leveled hills for developing a reservoir in Bayezid Bostami area. In most of the cases, hills were cut and leveled without permission from the Department of Environment (DoE).
Locals and influential persons pulled down hills by flouting law. Meanwhile, the environment and forest ministry and the Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry have blamed each other for deforestation in hills. Deforestations are one of the reasons behind catastrophic landslides in four districts that killed at least 154 people, including five army personnel, and injured scores others.

The forest ministry, blaming the CHT affairs ministry, said deforestation and unplanned “jhum” cultivation have triggered the landslides while the later held the former responsible saying that it is the environment ministry which is responsible for deforestation as they are the authority to permit timber traders for logging trees in the hills. Road Transport and Bridges Minister said that the government will launch eviction drive in the hills where illegal structures were raised. No political interference will be tolerated while evicting risky establishments in hilly areas, he warned. The minister came up with the warning while talking to journalists after visiting vulnerable areas in Lalkhan Bazar, Matijharna and Batali Hill in the port city. The minister said adding that the eviction drives can be made successful if the authorities concerned, including the city corporation mayor, take necessary steps. Eviction drives will be conducted as the lives of thousands of people are concerned here. No political influence will be tolerated in this case.

Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) has assured the government of Bangladesh that the UN System will continue to support ongoing efforts aimed at restoring services and providing emergency supplies to those affected by landslides. The UN said it remains "concerned" about the loss of lives, livelihoods and damage to homes and infrastructure in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Chittagong and Cox's Bazar. Mudslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains have killed over 154 people including five army personnel across five districts. The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Robert D Watkins expressed solidarity with the people and families affected by the landslides. This disaster occurs on the heels of cyclone Mora which left nine people dead and caused significant damage across the region.

The mudslides are reported to be amongst the most lethal in Bangladesh's recent history, and are widely attributed to the combination of the heavy rainfall and environmental degradation caused by unregulated deforestation, cutting hills and a burgeoning population. Hundreds of homes were buried in mud and rubble, and residents are facing acute fuel, electricity and water shortages. Families are taking refuge in emergency shelters, including schools and public buildings.

Meanwhile, local authorities are providing support to the affected residents, and have pledged to continue their support until families can safely return home. The blockage of road links within the affected areas and the disruption in telephone communications are hampering the relief response, but the World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the National Crisis Management Centre to assess the health aspects of the disaster.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), both present and with ongoing development projects in the Chittagong Hill Tract region, are also undertaking assessments and helping with the response. More detailed and long-term rehabilitation plans are being drawn up in collaboration with the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry.

The residents of the Rangamati district town, worst hit by the recent hill slides, have been passing their days amid an acute shortage of water and power crisis. Besides, the sudden price hike of essentials and fuel crisis in the local market have intensified the miseries of the residents. Power supply in the district town remained remain snapped for several days, putting the residents into darkness. The refueling stations and the retail shops of fuel were closed in the district town creating an acute fuel crisis. Besides, the road communications of the district with other parts of the region are yet to be restored. However, army personnel had to start working to clear the roads.

Meanwhile, the local administration has formed three committees to ascertain the losses caused by the hill slides in the Rangamati district.

The government has announced to provide Tk 5.0 million in cash and 100 tonnes of rice among the victims. At least 154 people, including five army personnel, were killed in the massive hill slides that struck the district recently.

Army personnel and fire service men carried out rescue operations in different parts of the district to comfort the inhabitants.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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