A third of forests, hilly land grabbed
12:00 AM, June 19, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:58 AM, June 19, 2017

Cox's Bazar Ecology at Stake

A third of forests, hilly land grabbed

28,000 of 89,162 hectares in the district illegally occupied or destroyed

Amzad Hossain came from his village Moghnama in Pekua upazila to Cox's Bazar town two decades ago and began working as a newspaper hawker. He bought two decimal land and built a house on a hilltop at Baiddyaghona.  

Encouraged by him, his close relatives came to the town and built six houses in the same area.

In the last nine years, more than 200 people died in mudslides in Cox's Bazar alone, but still people continue to build houses on hill slopes and hilltops ignoring the risk.

There are many reasons behind the rising habitation on hills -- the price of land on the plains is skyrocketing; the demand for housing is rising due to ever increasing population; a huge number of coastal people are becoming environmental refugees; Rohingyas are entering Bangladesh from Myanmar in large numbers; and the tendency to grab government land is on the rise, according to Cox's Bazar Civil Society, Cox's Bazar Forest and Environment Protection Council and several environmental groups.

Already, more than 30 percent of the total hill and forest land in Cox's Bazar, 89,162 hectares, has been lost to grabbers, said Deepak Sharma Dipu, founder president of Cox's Bazar Forest and Environment Protection Council.

At Baro Chhara, adjacent to the Marine Drive at Kolatoli in the town, was a deep forest. It is also known as a sanctuary for elephants. Now some 5,000 people live there in some 1,000 houses.

Most of them are in a risky situation. Still, they are reluctant to leave. 

No government and non-government offices have any information as to how many people are living on government land on the hills of the district, said Cox's Bazar Civil Society President Abu Morshed Chowdhury.

Yet, based on information from various sources, it has been estimated that around four lakh people are living illegally in the hilly areas of Cox's Bazar.

Of them, 1.5 lakh are Rohingyas, said Deepak, of the Environment Protection Council. 

In the latest incident, a man and his daughter were killed in a mudslide during incessant rain at Satghoriapara village of Teknaf upazila on June 14.

As many as 148 others were killed in landslides in other parts of the hilly region last week.

Sources concerned fear that more lives may be lost during the current monsoon.

The administration has failed to take any effective measures to prevent people from grabbing government land on the hills and from building houses there. 

Sarder Shariful Islam, assistant director of the Directorate of Environment (DoE), Cox's Bazar, said the directorate had filed more than 150 cases in connection with hill cutting in the last five years.

Drives are on against hill cutting, he said, “But the harsh reality is that the Directorate is not able to stop hill cutting.”

According to the 2010 statistics of DoE Cox's Bazar South, there were 18,000 illegal houses on the hills and forests owned by it and around one lakh people were living there.

Against the backdrop of the recent deaths on the hills, Cox's Bazar District Disaster Management Committee and the District Hill Management Committee held a meeting on June 14, said Additional Deputy Commissioner Kazi Abdur Rahman.

Six teams were formed to visit the risky areas in Cox's Bazar town and its suburbs.

They have been preparing lists of those living in risky and highly risky areas and requesting people to move to safety. 

The district administration and the municipality have also been working to raise awareness about the perils of living on hilltops and hill slopes, and urging people through megaphones to leave their homes as quickly as possible.

But there has not been much response. “No one wants to leave his house unless he is forced to,” said Shariful, assistant director of the DoE.

ADC Abdur Rahman said the district administration yesterday conducted raids at Baiddyaghona and Ghonar Para of Cox's Bazar town with the help of police, Rapid Action Battalion and Ansar members and evicted 50 families from their houses. 

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