THE death of at least 12 people in landslide — 11 in Rangamati where the Met Office recorded 264 millimetres of rainfall and one at Maheshkhali in Cox’s Bazar where the rainfall measured 86 millimetres in 24 hours till Tuesday morning when the disaster happened — comes with a shock and some failures on part of the government. Exactly a year before, at least 120 people, including four army personnel, died in landslide in Rangamati, 26 in Chittgong and 7 in Bandarban. Reports say that five died in landslide at Sitakunda in Chittagong on July 23, 2017, 28 in 2012 and 17 in 2011, to note the prominent figures. In the case at hand, the Chittagog-Rangamati Highway and the Rangamati-Khagrachari Highway closed to traffic because of submersion. Low-lying areas had been under water for two days before the disaster. It is evident that people living in the areas were at risk. The district administration was quick, after the landslide, to move 500 people to shelters and to provide relief supplies — Tk 20,000 and 30 kilograms of rice — for families of the victims. But all this speaks of the lack of preparedness, if the district administration had had it, that could have saved the lives lost.
Everyone is reminded of the monstrosity of such disasters soon after every such incident. While it is entirely not true that landslide, caused by rainfall that adds to the mass increasing the gravity, by flooding, storms, earthquakes or proximate construction that disturbs the soil, can happen every day, it is important, for the government and for people living down the hill slopes or in close proximity of hills, to not live in complete denial either. Unlike the cases in the past when people living down the slope or at the foot of the hills fell victim, a government official of Nannerchar said that in the case in question people who died were not living in hill pockets. But what the people responsible for making life safe for people living around hills may have forgotten that while the natural forces — gravity, rainfall, earthquake or storm — may never change, human factors that can cause landslide such as deforestation, change in the landscape, earthmoving from hills, overgrazing and building new settlements very well remain. While the government needs to attend to these issues, it may also think of having areas certified by geologists if constructions could be stable there.
In what has been happening in the areas for years, the government must have a comprehensive hill management plan, which should include a policy for erecting houses on the slope, at the foot of hills or around the hills conforming to the ecology of the region, to mitigate landslide disasters in future. The government must rehabilitate the poor living around the hills, stop the exploitation of the nature and bring to justice all who would be found responsible for causing damage to the hills by way of earthmoving or felling trees, which are said to have been done by people politically and financially powerful quarters, as part of the preparedness.
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