Living in a death trap
On August 18, 2008, 11 people, including five members of the same family, died in a landslide at Matijharna of the city's Lalakhan Bazar.
The death count does not stop here. In 2011, 17 died in Tiger pass. On June 26-27, 2012, 24 people died in Matijharna, Aambagan, Akbar Shah, Kaibaldham Bishsho Bank Colony, Jalalabaad and Harbatali areas.
In 2013, the port city saw two deaths in landslides, while in 2015, the number was eight. Seven and four people died respectively in 2017 and 2018.
Last Friday, four people died in Akbar Shah and Foy's Lake areas, followed by the death of a 12-year-old in Sholoshohor Choshma Hill area on Monday.
In the last 15 years, the port city saw 210 deaths in total due to landslides. A heavy, continuous downpour during the monsoon brings death with it every year.
Those living on the foot of the hills are the most vulnerable to the risks. Yet, the construction of illegal establishments by cutting hills has not stopped.
After the 2007 incident, a well-functioning Hill Management Committee was formed by the government, which in turn formed multiple investigating committees. The investigating committees submitted their probe reports as well. Since then, these committees have been holding coordination meetings every year, where disconnecting water, electricity and gas supply lines was discussed to discourage illegal establishments.
On behalf of these committees, eviction drives are conducted against such settlements every monsoon. However, the death train has not stopped.
"Heavy downpours and subsequent landslides are considered a natural process. However, multiple recommendations were made by the committees to put an end to the deaths, none of which have been implemented," said environmental activist Shareef Chauhan.
After the 2007 incident, an investigating committee, convened by MAN Siddique, then additional divisional commissioner, submitted an 18-page report. In the report, the committee identified 28 reasons behind the occurrence and made a 36-point recommendation but to no avail.
Two more committees were formed in 2008 and 2013, under Dr Md Shahidul Islam, then professor of geography and environment at Chittagong University and Prof Mozammel Haque, then Vice Chancellor of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology. Both the committees made detailed recommendations, none of which were implemented or taken into consideration.
"Those bearing the brunt of it are mostly from the lower-income class. The lands on the foot of the hill are grabbed by rich influential people, who make illegal establishments there and rent those to the poverty-afflicted. As a result, these are the people who are dying every year," added Shareef.
Contacted, Hill Management Committee President and Divisional Commissioner of Chattogram Ashrafuddin told this correspondent, "We are trying our best. But the people we evict from the risk-prone areas start living there again a few days after the drives. Hence, the deaths have become unstoppable."
A road has recently been constructed by the city corporation authorities in Akbar Shah area despite the risks of landslides. When asked, CCC Panel Mayor Giyas Uddin, while visiting the accident spot in the area, told this correspondent, "People have been living here for a long time. If the establishments were illegal, an eviction from the concerned authorities would do. The road has been built taking the conveniences of the people living here into consideration."