Death in landslides can be prevented
We are deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy caused by landslides in Cox's Bazar that took the lives of seven people including five Rohingyas. A 14-year-old girl, nine-year-old boy and a year old infant are among the dead in this tragedy. But we cannot escape the question of whether such loss of lives was not expected considering that landslides have been happening for many years, especially during heavy rains which is usual for our country. The problem is more related to the man-made disaster caused by indiscriminate cutting of the hills as well as grabbing of hills by influential people who then have built makeshift homes and rented them to low income people without any regard for the dangers they are putting their tenants in. Over one lakh people live on hills and their slopes in greater Chattogram, including Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Rangamati and Bandarban.
According to our news report, the district administration had already identified 30 landslide-prone hills on which 10,000 people live. During the monsoon season, the authorities try to relocate the people to the shelters but they do not want to go there because the shelters are in unhygienic conditions. Why have these shelters not been cleaned and made inhabitable since they will be needed practically every year?
After the devastating loss of 127 lives in landslides in 2007 in Motirjharna in Chattogram, a high powered committee had been formed which had put forward 30 recommendations. They included permanent rehabilitation of people whose homes are vulnerable to landslides, afforestation of hills that cushion the effect of landslides, stopping hill cutting and building fences around the hills to ward off grabbers. Why, even after 13 years have these recommendations not been implemented? Meanwhile, we had to witness another horrible landslide in June 2017 in Chattogram, Rangamati and Bandarban districts that killed around 170 people. The government must find out why none of these measures have been taken that could have saved hundreds of lives including the ones lost in the latest calamity. As there is a possibility of more landslides happening because of heavy rains, emergency measures have to be taken. Those people who are exposed to possible landslides must be immediately shifted to shelters that have to be properly cleaned and basic facilities installed along with the usual relief provisions of food, medicine, etc. The authorities must also evacuate Rohingya refugees remaining in the camps as they are vulnerable to landslides before they undergo temporary relocation. Given the surge in Covid-19 infections all over the country, the authorities must make sure that health guidelines can be followed in the shelters. The government must also try to implement the recommendations of the committee as soon as possible.