Efforts still far away to free Red Zone hill sites in CtgAnwar Hussain . Chittagong
With the rains setting in this year, around 50,000 people, mostly poor, who live on the hilltops or elsewhere around the hills face fresh risk of landslides in the Chittagong city and fringes, with the authorities hardly taking any active measures to relocate them.
So far, actions in this regard by Chittagong City Corporation and the district administration remain limited to urging the people in risk to move away from the sites. This year such action began from June 19 when officials assisted by the police asked people through loudspeakers to evacuate from Batali Hill, Bishwa Colony, Lalkhan Bazar and Motijharna, all under the Khulshi police.
‘Around 300 families are living there,’ deputy commissioner Fayez Ahmed told New Age, adding ‘In the wake of heavy rainfall for the past few days, we are making repeated announcements asking them to leave.’
The DC also admitted that their earlier attempts to move the families away from the risky hillsides had largely failed as the people residing there were very poor not affording to rent shelters elsewhere.
The Hill Management Committee, formed after a devastating slide claiming 127 lives in 2007, put in its ‘Red Zone’ list 12 hilly areas inside the metropolitan city, noting it as extremely urgent for the around 1500 families living there to be shifted.
The Red Zone areas are: Batali Hill, hills at Motijharna, Tiger Pass Hill, hills adjacent to CDA Avenue, Lake City Residential Area hills, VIP Hill, hills on Chittagong University premises, hills owned by Jamiatul Ulama Islamia Madrassah, hills adjoining the north part of Forest Research Institute, James Finley Hill at Chatteswari Road, AK Khan Hill, and Nasirabad Properties Hill.
Earlier on May 9 this year, the Committee at a meeting reached a decision to come up with a relocation plan within a year for the 12 Red Zone spots.
The meeting, chaired by divisional commissioner Sirajul Hoque Khan, also decided to provide each family residing there with Tk 1000-1200 per month for renting house elsewhere, said DC Fayez Ahmed.
Officials in the district administration said not much had been done in last one month regarding the decisions taken at the meeting.
The Hill Management Committee along with another committee, which was also formed after the 2007 fatal hill collapse, tabled 36-point recommendation which have been put on back burner, observe the green activists of the region.
The recommendations include preparation of a national hill management policy, banning setting up of brick kilns within 10 kilometres and undertaking housing projects within 5km of the hills posing risks, forming vigilance teams to check new settlements, making boundary walls around the hills, massive tree planting in the hill areas for better soil retention and stern punishment for the hill cutters.
‘Those with political muscle build slums in the hills owned by the government and rent them out to the poor garment workers, rickshaw pullers and others,’ said Sharif Chowhan, an environment activist and coordinator of non-governmental organisation Jana Udyog.
He also condemned the government and other authorities for their neglect of the issues and failure to address them immediately.
‘Landslide in Bangladesh is a man-made disaster,’ said AKM Rezaul Karim, chief city planner of CCC.
‘Unless all the stakeholders, the city corporation, Chittagong Development Authority, Housing and Public Works, Department of Environment, the police, Bangladesh Railway, Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Fire Service and Civil Defence, environmentalists and city planners, join hands, hill slides will continue,’ said Rezaul who foreboded further disasters.
Putting down the recent hill slides in the port city to unchecked hill cutting and steep slopes of the hills, Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology teacher Rasidul Hasan also stressed rehabilitation of the poor people elsewhere from the hill sites.
Meanwhile, people, many of them survivors of past disasters, continue to live in the hill sites as they say they have nowhere else to go.
‘I have to live here even if I have lost five of my family when the hill collapsed last year,’ said Bacchu Miah, who escaped the July 1 disaster.
‘After the disaster many came and gave a bunch of promises. Now I see none of them.’
‘It’s no joy living here. I am compelled to stay here simply because I don’t afford to go elsewhere,’ said Monir Hossen, who lives in a slum reportedly controlled by local goons in the hill site at Motijharna.
His neighbour Rahima Begum sought land to build shelter.
‘The government can allocate us land where we can build house at our own cost,’ she said.
On July 1 last year, a landslide at Tiger Pass Batali Hill claimed 17 lives and on June 17 this year an elderly man died in a collapse in Firozshah Colony area, both in the city.
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