Rehabilitate the poor, stop risky hill habitation

14 June, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Come monsoon, almost every year, torrential rains cause mudslides on the hill slopes of Chattogram and other hill districts resulting in the loss of valuable lives. Due to rampant cutting down of trees to make way for habitation, the hills face soil erosion due to lack of vegetation to hold them firmly and sometimes give-in during heavy downpours in the form of mud sludge. This makes the hill slopes extremely dangerous in monsoon even for passers-by let alone those who live on them. Poverty stricken people continue to occupy the risky hills due to lower rents defying orders against living in such danger-prone areas. 

Two years back, on June 13, 2017, torrential rains triggered a series of massive landslides in the hill districts, crumbling the homes on the slopes and burying the inhabitants alive in their sleep. A decade before that, on June 11, 2007 landslides killed 127 people, the highest such casualty on a single day in Chattogram. So, the month of June is a highly risky one for landslides in hilly areas.

A high powered hill management committee was formed after the 2007 devastating landslides, which issued directives to owners and occupants of 17 risky hills to evacuate in the coming rainy season. Although people are aware about the risk of landslides at these places, few days after the eviction drives, the residents return with their families and start living again in the pockets, slopes and bottom of the dangerous spots of the hills.

The committee also made a number of recommendations to solve the problem permanently. Failing to implement the recommendations of the committee, the administration only conducts eviction drives during rainy season which is unsustainable and inhumane. The blame also goes to local influential people and ruling party men, who illegally built on government and disputed private lands, making money renting out to low-income groups.

A permanent solution to the problem would be rehabilitating the vulnerable families to safe places and protecting the hills with afforestation drives, as recommended by the hill management committee, among other things. The authorities must strictly stop habitation on dangerous places. It is the state’s responsibility to look after all citizens and provide them with livelihood, notwithstanding the destitute, landless and the homeless.