ONE hundred and thirty-three people were killed in landslide in Chittagong and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 2013. It is already known to all that heavy rain, illegal hill cutting and deforestation are main reasons for frequent landslides in Chittagong and the hill districts. During the monsoon, water dissolves the minerals of the hill soil that loosens its compaction and soil becomes heavy by absorbing rainwater leading to landslide. The loss of lives, mostly from working class families, shocked the nation. It was expected that the authorities concerned would take early measures to prevent the recurrence of landslides and relocate people living in shanty houses on the hill slopes. In reality, as New Age reported on Tuesday, many people continued to live on the slopes marked as risky. In a report on landslides and hills of Chittagong, the district administration has identified 28 vulnerable hillsides in the city where 684 families are still living amid danger lurking over their head.
Land grabbers, cutting hills and taking down trees illegally, built these shanty towns. Water and power supply lines are visible there. When asked about the rent and bill collectors’ identity, the inhabitants kept silent fearing repercussion. Local people have alleged that most of those who claim ownership of hills do not have valid documents. Hills are not always cut down to build slums, property developers and influential people too are eyeing on the hills with profiteering interest. The report of the district administrations mentions that flouting laws, local influential people control these hills and rent out houses to the low-income people or use it for real estate development. It also cites the lack of policy direction on hill management and monitoring by the agencies concerned to check illegal hill cutting. Considering that landslide in Chittagong is a persistent and often fatal problem, it is unfortunate that the government still does not have a clear policy in this regard. Hill encroachment and deforestation is not only the cause of landslides, but also the primary factor contributing to the notorious water stagnation in the port city. Because of deforestation, crumbly soil becomes vulnerable after heavy rainfall and the soil then is washed down with rain water and fills drains and nearby canals causing water stagnation. It is absolutely unacceptable, as citizens and experts have said, tat the city authorities have failed to control the vested interests involved in hill cutting, land grabbing and deforestation that lead to landslides in the city.
It is the city authorities that are mandated to ensure that they take strict measures against the vested interests involved in illegal hill cutting and establishment of shanty towns on risky hills. They must immediately relocate and economically rehabilitate people living there. Without economic support and subsidised housing for the working class people, the relocation programmes will not be successful and sustainable. In the long term, all relevant authorities must devise a comprehensive policy to solve the problem of landslide and water stagnation.
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