Jul 07, 2017

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Torrential Rainstorms and Wide-Scale Landslides Leave Thousands Homeless

Photo Courtesy of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti

On 13 June 2017, non-stop rains and heavy landslides devastated the Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari hill districts, killing 131 people. Hundreds were injured and around 15,000 families were strongly affected, having lost most of their belongings. Landslides wiped out agricultural lands and crops and destroyed most of the roads and electrical installations. This natural disaster is yet another tragic example of how Dhaka great fails to anticipate emergency situations and neglects relief management. Experts point to large-scale rubber plantations, incessant deforestation and pressure of over-population upon lands as the main causes of such devastating landslides.


Below is an article published by Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti:

Incessant rains associated with heavy thunderclaps over several days led to wide scale landslides in Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari hill districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on 13 June 2017. The ever-found-wide-spread natural disaster claimed 170 lives in the districts of Bandarban, Khagrachari, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar including 121 lives alone in Rangamati hill district while leaving 227 souls injured. Besides, the landslides that caused heavy loss and damage to the properties includes thousand acres of orchard, agricultural lands, crops and homesteads. Indicator shows that Rangamati town area is the worst to have suffered the loss caused by the ruining calamity. As per information collected by the local administration, a total of around 15,000 families including 12,450 families in Rangamati district alone have suffered the losses in Rangamati sadar, Kaukhali, Kaptai, Jurachari, Bilaichari, Rajsthali and Naniarchar upazilas.

1. Loss and Damage in Rangamati Hill District:

The report available with the Ministry of CHT Affairs says that hill slides occurred in 145 places due to heavy rainfall for several consecutive days without any intermission. Broad-scale damage caused to the main roads linking Rangamati with Chittagong, Khagrachari and Kaptai including the Ghagra-Boroichari road. Of them, unprecedented ruins occurred at 50 sites along 20 kilometer part of the Rangamati-Chittagong road. The road running through the Sapchari area got 50 feet slide down at Shalbagan making the road totally unusable. Besides, wreckages have appeared to be prominent at least at 16 points in the hills either side of the main road that runs from Moghaichari to Manikchari. There are at least 25 spots where the slides caused 50% damage that has made the road totally unusable. Many electricity poles got laid down in Rangamati Hill district that resulted in the isolation from electricity for 5 consecutive days. The road linking Rangamati and Khagrachari developed bottle-neck slides at many points including that of the Khamarpara site under Kutukchhari Union. All this led Rangamati to remain in total isolation from Chittagong, Khagrachhar and Rangamati. The water-way navigation from Rangamati to Kaptai was initiated on war-footing basis and with this an alternative road communication with Dhaka was established using the Kaptai-Chittagong road. The post-hill slide days soon gave rise to all out crisis in daily necessities including the consumer goods, especially, extreme crisis in fuels that multiplied the price on whatever was available in the market. Consequently, crisis of daily necessities and additional price thereof soon gripped the Upazilas in the district.

In Rangamati hill district, the landslide claimed 74 souls including 5 army personnel in proper Rangamati Upazila, 21 lives in Kaukhali, 18 in Kaptai, 6 in Jurachhari and 2 in Bilachhari Upazilla. Ethnically, the death toll reads to be 61 hill people and 60 Bengali people. In the Rangamati hill district, Rangamati town area stood to be the worst to suffer great loss and damage. Alone in Ward No. 6 of Rangamati Municipality area, 22 Jumma souls died in landslides occurred in Vedvedi, Rangapani, Mono Adaam, Udondi Adam and in Moanghar area while 207 Jumma families suffered loss and damage. Even the hill slopes were not spared from the slide in these areas. Consequently, hundred acres of grove and plantation got ruined while the landslide spread thick layer of soil over hundred acres of agricultural lands adjacent to the hills making them irreversible for cultivation. Besides, the houses got damaged and that have become highly risky for dwelling are 141 families in the villages of Khipya Para, Tanchangya Para, Assambosti, etc. under Ward No. 5 and the houses belonging to 54 families living in Valedi, Biharpur, Uluchara, etc. villages under Rangamati Upazilla Sadar. Due to overwhelming landslide in Rangamati town, the 15 significant installations that are lying under risk include Bangladesh Television Satellite Center, Bangladesh Radio Centre, Passport Office, Deputy Commissioner’s Bungalow, Superintendent of Police Bungalow, Secondary Education Office, Circuit House, Museum and Dormitory of Rangamati Small Ethnic Cultural Institute, Office of the Social Welfare Department, LGED Office, Fishery Ghat, Fishery Bungalow, at least 15 installations that worth some hundred million of Taka.

The other 10 Upazillas (sub-district) under Rangamati hill district also had a wide-ranging damage of the landslide. Especially, in the upazilas of Rangamati Sadar, Kaukhali, Kaptai, Jurachari, Bilaichari, Rajasthali, Naniarchar etc., the houses, hundred acres of groves and plantations and cultivable lands got damaged. The water level of the Kaptai Lake went up at every nook and corner due to continuous rain and the rain water draining down from the hills resulting in submersion of thousand acres of fringe land with crops. In the 6 Unions under Rangamati Sadar upazila, 191 houses were completely damaged and 374 houses were partially smashed, and crops and orchards of 3,543 families were damaged.

According to the Kaukhali Upazila administration, loss and damage caused to some 1,697 families. The areas that faced wide-scale loss and damage in the Upazila include Lebachhara, Champatali, Dewanpara, Junumachara, Snadwip Colony, Betchari and Kochukhali. As per the list made available by the Kaptai Upazila administration, 677 families living under Kaptai, Chitmaram, Chandraghona, Wagga and Raikhali Unions fell prey to disaster. More than 200 dwellings under Boroichhari, Chitmaram, Dhakaiya Colony, Wagga, Raikhali and in various other places have become risky for living in. A sizable portion of Debtachari hill under Wagga Union got collapsed.

According to the Jurachari Upazilla administration, 593 families living under Jurachari, Dumdumya and Moidung Unions suffered loss and damage. As per the data accumulated by PCJSS, the houses of 64 families under Jurachhari Union, 12 families under Banjogichara Union, 15 families under Moidung Union and 23 families under Dumdumya Union were damaged. The entire Ghilatali village of Jurachari Union was swept away by the water running down from the hills causing the houses of 23 families got buried in the mud. According to lists compiled by Bilaichari, Farua and Kengrachari Unions under Bilaichari Upazila, the houses, crops and grove lands including plantations of 2,033 families got damaged. Especially, heavy loss and damage caused to Farua Union.

The Gainda and Ghilatali Union in Rajasthali Upazil is to record that loss and damage to properties caused to 453 families in these two Unions at the least. The rural feeder roads leading to Rajasthali Sadar got blocked due to landslide and collapse of the hill slopes while the T&T Para, Old Police Station area, Headman Para, Khagrachari Para, Kutirshilpa Para, Anagrani Para situated by the rivulet and many other dwellings have become risky for living in. According to the information collected by four Unions in Naniarchar upazila, house, grove land with plantation and paddy lands of 889 families were damaged.

2. Loss and Damage in Bandarban Hill District

6 persons died in 13 June landslide due to constant rains in the Municipality area of Bandarban Sadar Union. In Bandarban town, the affected areas that have been left to be risky for dwelling are Lemujhiri, Kalaghata, Baruatek, Fenchi Ghona, Rajar Goda, Garjania including many other places in the far remote rural areas. The settlements of more than 200 families located either side of various roads in the stiff hills are at risk for dwelling. The number of families living close to the hills amidst the highest risk have been recorded to be 144. Besides, some 100 families are living by the roadside comparatively in less risk. Indeed, the Bandarban hill district got disconnected from the mainland by land communication due to heavy rains and landslides. The electricity supply in Lama, Alikadam and Naikhyongchari Upazilas got collapsed to its worst.

3. Loss and Damage in Khagrachari Hill District:

The Landslides that occurred on 14th and 18thof June, claimed 4 souls in Laxmichari and Ramgar Upazilas under Khagrachari hill district. The source of District Administration says that besides in the Upazila sadar, the people are living at the foothills of Manikchari, Ramgarh and Mahalchari upazilas under risky condition. The heavy and non-stop rains caused flood in the lower Khagrachari areas. As there continues incessant rains alongside the flood, further landslide is being fearfully expected in various Upazilas including the Upazila sadar. Many villages in Dighinala Upazila went under the flood water due to heavy and non-stop rains associated with landslide. Including that of Khagrachari sadar and in many other upazilas, the settlements of some 2000 families at the foothills have become too risky to dwell in. Following the disaster, 6 shelters have been opened for the distressed families. Till date more than 200 families have been accommodated in these shelters.

4. Government Measures and Support:

The Rangamati District Administration opened out 19 Shelter Centres for the victims. Of them, 6 Shelter Centres have been opened under Ward No. 6 in which the Jumma people basically took shelter. The amount of relief and financial support that has been made available on part of the government is too inadequate. It has remained uncertain in totality as to when the hundreds of people who suffered loss and damage would be able to get dwelling houses or be able to construct houses at their own.

Mr. Obaidul Qader, Communication Minister and also General Secretary of ruling Awami League and Mofazzal Hossain Maya, Relief and Disaster Management Minister, paid a visit to the devastated Rangamati on 14 June. After landing, they stepped out from the Circuit House and moved straight to the site of Manikchari where 5 army personnel were killed in the landslide incident. From there, he visited Shimultali, the settler-inhibited area and then he moved to the Rangamati General Hospital. Before leaving for Dhaka that day, they held a meeting in the office premises of Deputy Commissioner of Rangaamti district. During the meeting, he announced a lump-sum grant of Taka 20,000/- for each deceased family. While visiting Shimultai, Ms Rita Chakma, Vice Chairman of Rangamati Sadar Upazila Parishad requested Minister Obaidul Qader also to pay a visit to the Jumma-inhibited Vedvedi-Moanoghar areas wherein at least 22 Jumma souls died in the incident. In reply, saying: ‘No time.., the army would be asked for,’ he moved straight towards the Rangamati Hospital instead of paying visit to the site requested.

It draws notice that there is no coordination in combating the calamity and aftermath. Though the subject of Coordination and Supervision of Relief and Disaster Management falls under jurisdiction of CHT Regional Council (CHTRC), however, the CHTRC has not been involved in combating the disaster and relief management. Even the Chairmen of Rangamati Hill District Council and Rangamati Upazila Parishad were not called to attend any meetings relating to the landslide arranged by the District Administration. Allegation has been received to the effect that the Committees for Relief Distribution and Disaster Management and the Sub-committees thereof have been organized with the leaders and partisan people of the ruling party. Consequently, due to this kind of party-line practice has given rise to wide-scale irregularities and lacking of coordination in listing up loss and damage, distribution of relief, management of shelter centres and security measures for the affected people. The government has distributed BDT 20,000 and BDT 5,000.00 for the demised and wounded respectively through the District Administration. On the other hand, though the Rangamati Hill District Council has also declared BDT 20,000 for each departed soul but in practice, the money has been being distributed among the chosen partisan families, as per the allegation.

5. Causes leading to landslide:

In the inter-ministerial meeting a fresh 27-member Committee was formed for identifying the reasons that had contributed to great-ever devastating landslide. The Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management is the Convener of the Committee. The Committee was formed with the members ranging from the representatives of office of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Division, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Ministry of Local Government, Land Ministry, Fire Service, Department of Armed Forces, representatives from Dhaka University and Chittagong University and the Deputy Commissioners from 5 districts. It is utter surprise to observe that no representative has been accommodated from CHTRC and three Hill District Councils.

It is learnt that complete lists of the areas lying under risk are not available with the concerned authorities of the hill districts. Hence, the administration did not also have preparation in the totality to coup up loss of lives in landslides. Risky areas are identified in each district only before commencement of the monsoon every year. But this time, that too had not been done in two of the three hill districts. Landslide has been occurring regularly over the last decade. It is for this reason, the experts hold the establishments of settlements elsewhere and deforestation as the principal cause of the recent disaster.

One of the various reasons behind the unprecedented landslide is being taken into account that it is the broad-based plundering of forest resources, plantation of teak by the Forest Department by denudation of natural forests and reckless creation of wide-scale rubber plantation by giving the hill lands in lease to the outsiders. Secondly, it is held for another one reason saying that it is the giving settlement of more than 4,00,000 Bengali settlers in 1980s and as such, there has been a tremendous pressure of over-population upon the lands and natural resources. Thirdly, it is also being considered that in consequence to constant land occupation and repeated communal attacks, many of the Jumma people evicted from their lands and homesteads, for not having been rehabilitated, gradually found their settlements in the risky sites of Rangamati town – to be another valid reason of landslide. Fourthly, consequently, this led to construct unplanned dwelling houses by cutting hills and establishing risky settlements by the Bengali settlers by cutting hillsides with the support of administration, etc. – all this had developed the main reason behind the wide-spread landslide, as opined by the experts of various faculties.

Many hold the constant heavy thunder claps to be one of the reasons behind the landslide. There were tremendous thunder roars without intermission shaking the earth on 13 June during the landslide. Many are to opine that this shaking loosened the earth layer and led to get ruining collapsed. Shaking of earth due to ear piercing roars of thunder bolts and consequently getting the wet soil loosened, though may not bear the scientific conclusion to be true, yet the report made available on part of the Ministry of CHT Affairs has identified to be one of the reasons behind the disaster.

It is to be of worth mentioning that as per the data recorded on 11 June 2017, the rainfall was 365 milliliters. According to the statistical record, the rainfall in Rangamati was 335 ml on 4 August in 1983; on 15 July 1998 the rainfall was 317 ml; on 26 June 1999 the rainfall was 307 ml; on 21 June the rainfall was 304 while 11 July 2004 the rainfall was 337. It is further worthy to be mentioned that the landslide on 11 June 2007 claimed 127 lives basically in Chittagong district; on 18 August 2007 the landslide claimed 12 souls;17 died in landslide in the year 2011. The last 3 years it is Chittagong alone to witness the landslides; on 26 and 27 June 2012, the landslides in Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, Bandarban and Sylhet claimed 94 lives. Cox’s Bazaar alone witnessed 19 lives to have claimed by landslide in 2015 and this time altogether 170 people died in landslide incident.

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