Hunger stalks life in remote Thanchi
The very existence of indigenous people deep inside Thanchi upazila of Bandarban remains shrouded in dense jungle; local representatives and other authorities remember them on rare occasions, like elections, and seldom pay heed to their problems.
Having been through a severe shortage of food for a month, some 25,000 people mostly from mro, khumi, tripura and marma communities early this month learnt that they would soon get relief from the government.
Two more weeks have gone since the allocation of 180 tonnes of rice for the upazila but not even one-third of that has been distributed among those who are subsisting on wild potatoes.
The well-known excuse is that it is difficult to go from Thanchi bazaar to the remote areas of Tindu and Remakri unions through the treacherous Sangu river.
It is even tougher to carry by small boats the relief materials to some 13,000 people living in those areas, said Thanchi Upazila Nirbahi Officer Anwar Hossain.
Besides, carrying one tonne of food to Tindu or Remakri costs more or less Tk 13,000.
“The government did not give us the carrying cost. So, it becomes difficult for us to distribute food to the affected families right away,” Anwar said.
However, he claimed that Tk 2 lakh was already spent on carrying food to the two unions, which he had managed from his own pocket and other projects of the government.
The UNO said he would later request the relief and disaster management ministry for refund.
Of the allocated rice, only 36 tonnes have been distributed among the affected families, said Alamgir Hossain, project implementation officer (PIO) of Thanchi.
“We need time to distribute food due to communication problem.”
Since the river water has risen due to rains, it is now not possible to carry food to the remote areas, said Thanchi Upazila Chairman Kwa Hla Ching.
Asked about recent media reports on food corruption, he denied such allegations and said the rice allocated by the government had reached Thanchi bazaar.
However, both the newly-elected Tindu and Remakri union parishad chairmen said an insignificant amount of government relief had reached those areas.
Adivasis have reportedly been scouring jungles for what they can eat to survive.
Remakri Union Parishad Chairman Mui Shwe Thoai Marma said the former chairman used to give relief materials to people in loans locally known as “Dadan”.
One sack of rice was given for a payback of two sacks the next year, Mui added.
Responding to the allegation, Maliram Tripura over the phone said he was not the only one involved in the illegal act. The higher authorities at the upazila level, including officials responsible for food distribution, and ruling party men had been behind the corruption, he added.
Tindu former chairman Shigoram Tripura could not be reached for comments.
Food shortage is not something unusual in remote areas of Thanchi. Every year, indigenous people face such a situation because of damage by rats or insects to jhum crops they harvest.
This year, the crisis worsened since indigenous people could not cultivate enough crops for themselves last year for incessant rain.
Apart from the allotment of rice to tackle the ongoing crisis, the government allocates food every year under different schemes like Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding, General Relief, Open Market Sale etc.
In fiscal 2015-16, the total amount of food allotted for Thanchi is 964 tonnes, PIO Alamgir said.
However, only 400 tonnes of food reached Thanchi food store, said District Food Controller Subir Nath Chowdhury. The remaining food was collected from the district headquarters and Chittagong by local representatives.
“If local representatives want to collect food [allocated for their areas] from the district town, we cannot help but give permission,” Subir said.
Meanwhile, contractors made bills with the help of food department officials for transporting the food, which they actually did not carry to Thanchi upazila from the district town, at Tk 1,680 per tonne, said a few of them asking for anonymity.
“There is a syndicate of people, including ruling party men, behind the malpractice,” one of them said.
Every time news on food crisis in Thanchi appears in the media, the government rushes for a temporary solution and so the problem arises again the following year.
Altaf Hossen, deputy director of the agricultural extension department, emphasised the importance of improving communication networks for a permanent solution.