Although landslides claim lives of many people in the country’s hill districts every year, the authorities concerned are yet to take any effective measure to check such fatal incidents.
Thousands of families still live in pockets, slopes and bottoms of hills in the hilly region, risking their lives as they may experience landslide in the upcoming rainy season.Experts said there is no ‘concrete step’ in sight to this end. The government only opts for evicting encroachers from the hills before and during rainy season.
The landslide issue is supposed to get more attention of the government to prevent avoidable deaths, they said.
They stressed the need for a permanent solution to the problem through ensuring protection of vulnerable areas from landslides and rehabilitation of those living in slope areas.
According to a recent study findings, some one hundred thousand people are exposed to landslides in the hilly districts.
Vested quarters illegally build makeshift houses in risky lands around hills. Poor people, including day labourers, rickshaw-pullers and garment workers, who cannot afford to pay high rents, live in these risky houses endangering their lives.
In 2017, the landslides killed over 160 people in five districts. Of them, 110 people were killed in Rangamati alone.A total of 127 people were killed in landslides in 2007. And till 2015 this disaster alone killed 13 people per year on average.
Md Shahidul Islam, assistant professor and chairman of Department of Disaster Science and Management at Dhaka University, said, “Deforestation and indiscriminate cutting make hills vulnerable to landslides. Most landslides are caused by multiple factors that act together to make hill slopes vulnerable.”
“When these happen, the water inside the cracks of the hill becomes heavier in rain. The hills become heavy. As a result, portions of the hill collapse,” he told the daily sun.
He advised the authorities concerned to stop cutting hills at any cost to overcome the problem.
On April 11, Chittagong district administration started eviction drive to remove people who are living dangerously in cramped houses on slopes and foots of hill in the port city. Those people frequently experience landslides during monsoon.
As local people started protesting the eviction drive, officials stopped it and left the site.
During the drive, executive magistrate Sabbir Rahman Sani said that they conducted the drive to save people from potential landslides that take place almost every monsoon.
“This hill is completely different from other hills of Chittagong,” he said.
He said, “Chittagong district administration had asked residents of the hills to leave the areas by April 10.”
Earlier, the DC office issued letters to Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Power Development Board and Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Limited to cut illegal power, gas and water connections to those hills.
On January 8 and March 21, they had sent letters to the hill owners to vacate the hills by removing people who have been living there illegally.
The Chittagong DC office also sent letters to Chittagong City Corporation, Bangladesh Railway, Chittagong WASA, Roads and Highway Department, Public Works Department, National Housing Authority and Department of Environment to take necessary measures.
Professor Dr Akhter Hussain, chairman of Department of Public Administration at Dhaka University, said, “Natural and human activities are behind landslides. Natural reasons include excessive rain while manmade reasons include indiscriminate clearing of forest lands and hill cutting for a number of purposes.”
He said, “To address this disaster situation, concerted efforts are needed from the stakeholders concerned like the government. The government on its part needs to formulate policy and rules and regulation particularly on forest conservation and management and hill cutting, ensuring environmental sustainability.”
“At the same time, the government agencies concerned also need to closely monitor the compliance of those particularly in the landslide prone areas and regions,” he added.