Friday, June 23, 2017 | ePaper

Fear of more landslides

Random hill cutting must stop, experts insist

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Reza Mahmud :
A halt to random hill cutting and burning forest trees, grasses and creepers is the need of the time to curb more devastating landslides in Chittagong and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, experts have viewed.
 "The hills of Bangladesh are made with soils and sands. It is not made with stones. So, our mountain peaks are protected by the roots of big trees. The small trees, grasses and creepers also help hill soils from decaying. The people in those areas are destroying the forests by cutting trees. It caused huge landslides in the CHT," MA Matin, the General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), told The New Nation yesterday.
According to the Fire Service and Civil Defence office, 154 people, including 6 Army officials, were killed in Tuesday's landslides in several hilly areas in Chittagong and the CHT.
The Fire Services continued till Saturday the eviction of the people living on hill slopes with risks.
About 3 lakh people live on such hill slopes.
The local people said before 2000 they did not suffer from such landslides due to the existence of huge mangrove forests in those areas.
On June 11, 2007, grave landslides in the hills of Hathazari, Khulshi, Bayezid Bostami and Pahartoli in Chittagong claimed 127 lives.
In 2008, 130 people were killed in landslides in Baluchara area of Bandarban.
In 2016, 16 people were killed in another landslide in the hill region.
Each of those incidents took place in rainy seasons, experts pointed out. They said building of unplanned residential areas in hills has contributed immensely to fatal landslides.
When contacted, Mehadi Hassan Palash, Chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Research Foundation said, "The Jhum cultivators in the CHT have made most of the hills vulnerable to disaster. As a result, the roots of trees were gradually being removed. In these circumstances, the soil of hill peaks fails to keep itself tightly in rainy seasons. Heavy rain develops cracks in the hills and eventually causes landslides."
Palash suggested the government take strict steps to protect hills.
 "Devastating landslides in hill areas may occur many more times in future, if appropriate steps are not taken," he said.
The hilly people, both Bangalees and tribals, blamed terrorist groups for looting big trees in the forests. They also blamed the officials of Forest and Environment Departments for not doing anything to protect those trees.
These terrorist groups include Jana Sanghati Samity and United Peoples' Front, they alleged.
Apart from these, some tribal men are now hugely grabbing hills to expand their lands and to drive Bangalee settlers out of the areas.
Besides, the political touts are involved in cutting hills.
After the devastating landslide in 2007, the government formed a technical committee to find the causes of such incidents.
But the experts said the authorities concerned did not pay heed to the recommendations put forward at that time.
Professor Shahidul Islam of the Geography and Environment Department at Dhaka University was in the 11-members committee.
"The hills have been made so vulnerable by rampant cuttings that cracks were developed in dry seasons. In rainy season the heavy water in the cracks pushes the soil lays, which caused landslides," Professor Shahidul Islam said.
He said when the government leased out the hills, those were green with huge forests, but after some days the forests were ruined.

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