Experts on Wednesday blamed deforestation, unabated hill cutting and settlers for repeated landslides, the latest spell of which left about 150 people killed and many missing in Chittagong, Rangamati and Bandarban on Tuesday.
Talking to New Age, the experts and citizens urged the government to develop a master plan to identify the risky hills.
They also suggested reforestation, prevention of hill cutting, identification of risky zones by GIS-based hazard mapping, introduction of warning system, rehabilitation of the people at risk to end landslide.
Thousands of people living on the slopes of hills in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazar are exposed to landslides in the rainy season because of hill cutting and unauthorised use of hills, they said.
According to district administration, more than 50,000 people of low-income group live on the slopes of 30 hills in Chittagong city and about one lakh people live on hill tops and slopes in Cox’s Bazar town, mostly exposed to landslides.
According to the statistics, landslides killed 19 people in Cox’s Bazar in June 2015, 94 in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban and Sylhet in June 2012, 17 at Batali Hill in Chittagong in July 2011, 12 at Matijharna in Chittagong in August 2008 and 127 in June 2007.
Many slums have been constructed on the hill slopes in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazar.
In Chittagong city, local people alleged that politically influential individuals built the slums on the hill slops to rent them out to low-income people.
Tobarak Banu, a housemaid of Lalkhan Bazar area, said that she was living at a shanty on Matijharna hill rented for Tk 1000 per month. Local administration on Tuesday asked people to evacuate hill tops and slops and to go to safer places. ‘Since we have no place in the city to go, we have planned to return to the village,’ she said.
Settlers demanded rehabilitation to stop such dwelling in death traps.
Chittagong University soil science department assistant professor Sajal Roy blamed unplanned use of hills, deforestation and hill cutting for landslide.
Hills in these areas are constituted of crumbly soil and become vulnerable after heavy rainfall if the surface is not covered with plants, he said.
When it rains, water dissolves the minerals of the soil of the hills which loosens its compaction and the soil also becomes heavy absorbing rainwater. In heavy rainfall, minerals in the soil dissolve very quickly, the soil turns into mud and become very heavy, explained the soil scientist.
The steep slopes of the hills cannot bear the weight of the wet soil or mud and results in landslide, he added.
Settlers cut trees and hills so reforestation is urgent in hill areas and authorities concerned need to take stern action to stop hill cutting, said Dhaka University disaster science and management assistant professor Md Shahidul Islam.
He said, ‘We can also come up with some early warning of landslide analysing the trend of rainfall over the last 30 years and the event of landslide in the hill districts. There is a correlation between the amount of rainfall and possibility of landslide.’
Chittagong Port Authority member (administration Md Zafar Alam, who had worked in Department of Environment for many years, blamed settlers for messy hill cutting that destroyed the nature of hills.
Settlers do not know how to maintain forest in hill areas. Hill people do not cut hills to build houses. If someone really needs to build a home on a hill slope, they build traditional homes without cutting hills, explained Zafar.
East Delta University vice-chancellor Muhammad Sikandar Khan blamed lack of coordination between authorities concerned for the failure to prevent landslide.
He said that landslides triggered by heavy rains in the port city claimed at least 185 lives in the last nine years with 127 in 2007.
He said that after the landslide of 2007, the authorities had taken some initiatives but did not implement them.
District administration officials said that to prevent further loss of lives, Divisional Hill Management Committee, formed after the 2007 tragedy, identified 30 hills as vulnerable.
The committee had also listed about 2,500 people for rehabilitation. Many more have been left out as an estimated 10,000 people are currently living in such areas.
According to the district administration, after the death of 11 people in a mudslide at Matijharna in Chittagong city in August 2008, the government initiated a move to mark hillsides and valleys exposed to landslide as Red Zones, evacuate people living in the areas and reforest the areas.
In 2008, the Hill Management Committee selected 27 acres of khas land in Hathazari upazila to rehabilitate people affected by landslides. As the land fell under Bangladesh Army Firing Range, the committee selected 5.92 acres of land at Jahan Ali Hat near Kalurghat Bridge belonged to the Bangladesh Railway.
There was a plan to set rehabilitation centres there for some 2,400 families. As the project failed, the people returned from Hathazari to the hills, said the officials said.
Chittagong deputy commissioner Md Zillur Rahaman Chowdhury said that they had a plan to stop settlements on the top of the hills.
He said that rehabilitation programmes would also be taken as early as possible.
Chittagong Development Authority chairman Abdus Salam said that the district administration already pointed out that land owners would be responsible for everything, so the development authority had nothing to do.
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