THE death of an elderly man in mudslide at Firoz Shah Colony in Chittagong Sunday morning, triggered by two days of incessant rain, seems to provide yet another poignant reminder that the authorities concerned may not be adequately serious about the safety of especially the marginalised people who live on the foot of the hills in the port city. Although, according to a report published in New Age on Monday, the district administration did ask 250 families living in the hilly areas, it is regrettably that its action came only after the elderly person had been killed in a mudslide. Its delayed response could be said to border on criminal negligence, especially given the fact that at least 17 people were killed when rain triggered a landslide buried a number of houses at Ambagan, to the south of the Batali Hills in Chittagong, only last July. Chittagong has also been witness to one of the great tragedies in recent times, when a series of landslides in different areas killed 126 people on June 11, 2007.
Landslide in hilly areas is a common phenomenon during monsoon, which has claimed more than 200 people killed in Chittagong in the past decade or so, with most of the victims belonging to the marginalised sections of society. However, it appears that the authorities have not developed a comprehensive strategy to prevent loss of lives during such landslides. Worse still, their preventive measures actually resulted in the tragedy last July; the guide walls that they had built to protect people living on the foot of the hills collapsed on four thatched houses. Meanwhile, in the absence of effective law enforcement, many real estate developers have continued to cut hills, to build housing and commercial complexes, thereby making the hills vulnerable to landslides.
One may also detect class bias in the indifference of the authorities concerned; after all, it is mostly people belonging to the marginalised sections of society who live at the foot of the hills. It is estimated that some 50,000 people live in these dangerous locations. It is conceivable that these people refuse to move out, as the authorities complain, because most of them work in the city as rickshaw-pullers, domestic helps, etc. However, it is not acceptable that they should be left vulnerable to such tragedies.
Now that the authorities have ordered evacuation of 250 families from the Firoz Shah Colony, they need to ensure that these people are moved to a safer area, and not thatched houses at the foot of some other hills. Meanwhile, the district administration needs to take similar measures to relocate people who live in such dangerous locations.
comments powered by Disqus