A proposal to address landslide vulnerabilityby M Mizanur Rahman
The death toll has exceeded one hundred due to landslide in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and the Hill Tracts. And there is a high possibility that the number may increase. In 2007, a massive landslide following heavy rain on June 11 claimed some 132 lives. But perhaps, the land slide this year is going to be the most devastating one in recent times. Though there is no strong database to gauge the trend of landslide in Bangladesh, we come across these sorts of causalities every year, most frequently in June and July. But this year, it has turned out to be a demon for the poor victims living in hilly areas or hills.
Media reports say that families of the deceased have been compensated with twenty thousand taka from the government. This is quite ridiculous because, with this amount, they cannot even make a temporary shelter to stay for a few days and save themselves from the rain. What will these people do with this small amount of money? Is it a compensation for death?
Every sensible person is shocked to see the reports in newspapers and TV channels. The way the incidents and the sufferings of the people have been portrayed, I believe it has touched everyone in this country. But unfortunately, we are unable to do anything substantial for them. Regrettably, it is some of us living in civil society, with big names and positions, who are responsible in many ways for this catastrophe.
In the history of disaster management of our country, we do not see the government or any development agency taking any effective preventive measure to save these wretched people from this hazard. We all know that there are some other big factors working behind it and if the government wants to address the root cause of this problem, many big guns will be dissatisfied, and the policy makers and law-enforcing agencies keep mum due to the existence of the invisible hand of politics.
Experts claim that the major reason behind landslide is hill cutting, which is all done by people who have the strength of cutting a hill. They are all backed by political leaders, especially of the ruling parties, or some other people who once held big positions in our administration. The blessed people of our country visit the beautiful hill tracts of Chittagong and then do everything to destroy the beauty of it. Who will bell the cat?
Landslide is a disaster having a unique pattern and impact in Bangladesh. If we have a look at the people who become the victims of different disasters, we will see a difference in them as well. Who dies from landslides? They are the people who are the ethnic minority or those who have nothing i.e. the extreme poor. They are the ones who mainly live beside the hills. Who will think for them? And when the interest of the so called big guns is the major reason for the suffering of these people, who will take the initiative to prevent hill cutting and save these poor people?
People over there have been warned; the local authorities and volunteers disseminated the message using mikes and mega-phones, but people did not leave their vulnerable houses. This is not because they were not concerned. It is because they do not have any other place where they can take shelter or where they can save themselves from the heavy rainfall and sleep at night. These poor people are living with their families in the laps of the hills that can smash them anytime.
What have we done for them or what are we doing for them now? Have we stopped cutting the hills? Have we taken them to a safe place? Have we given them sufficient support to lead their lives in these rainy days? The answer is perhaps, ‘not at all’.
Now, in this situation, we need to take some very prompt and immediate initiatives so that the search and rescue is done properly, the affected people are rehabilitated and given proper food and treatment. It is now a must for the government and non-government agencies to come forward, not with just twenty thousand taka, but with substantial support that is necessary for saving the people in these places.
Secondly and most importantly, I would propose a risk zone mapping for the Chittagong Division and come up with some comprehensive programmes for this region. In South Asia, Nepal is developing this risk zone mapping for the entire country as landslides are very frequent for them. We do not initially need to prepare this map for the whole country, but we need to develop this at least for the Chittagong Division. After soil testing, up to the micro level, we can prepare a map for this zone that will identify places highly vulnerable to land slide, based on the soil quality, structure and pattern.
Then what we need to do is to avoid our as usual development approach i.e. obliging people to live in a safe place after giving them some incentives, like building safe houses for them in those identified safe places. We need to let them live in their natural habitat and that is why, pushing the people, especially the ‘Paharis’, to live in our prescribed place needs to be avoided. Rather, we can raise awareness among them showing them the safe places and then informing them about the benefit they can get if they move to those places and live their own way.
For many reasons, this part of our country is very important for us and we need to concentrate on the preservation and development of this area. First, we need to stop hill cutting in any way and for this, the government needs to come up with stringent laws and ensure their implementation. Secondly, prepare a risk map for Chittagong Division indicating areas vulnerable to landslide. A collaborative effort at government and non-government levels will be essential for coming up with some comprehensive approach to make this region a safer living place for people.
We can also come up with some early warning strategy for landslides by analysing the trend of rainfall over the last 30 years and the events of landslide in the Hill Tracts. There is a correlation between the amount of rain fall and the possibility, and severity, of landslide. Through this, we can also give early warning messages to the people living in the hill tracts.
I am afraid that perhaps it is just the beginning for this year, which is very crucial for us with regards to disaster management. So, any sincere initiative from the government will obviously be welcomed by the common people. If the government and development professionals are sincere, I think, even common people will be ready to volunteer for supporting the disaster affected people in our country.
The writer is a development researcher and works for Islamic relief worldwide
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