Disasters man invites at his own peril

Dhaka,  Tue,  27 June 2017
Published : 15 Jun 2017, 20:08:18
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Disasters man invites at his own peril

Against the backdrop of widespread landslides, it is time the authorities reviewed their decisions on use of hills. Those already damaged or dismantled may not be brought back but at least the obstruction caused by the new structures should be removed. Those still left should  be allowed to have enough green cover of trees, herbs and shrubs in order to restore their soil structure, suggests Nilratan Halder
Landslides triggered by heavy rains and wind in the hilly districts have taken a heavy toll of life and property. There were families which lost their young ones. How tragic it was for a mother to have lost all three of her sons to the falling debris of hill tops or sides! Even four members of a rescuing army team lost their lives during rescue operation as another dislodged mound suddenly came over them to throw them about 30 feet below. The death toll is apprehended to rise because another member of the team was missing when others could be rescued with injuries -some of them with critical ones. Local civilians -in some cases entire families -were reported missing too. 

The impression is that suddenly Nature in the region has conspired to trigger all hell to break loose. Or, else why should hills start tumbling from Chittagong to Bandarban to Rangamati? It is futile, though, to find a negative divine intervention in the series of tragic incidents. As if denudation of hills were not enough, the hills and hillocks have to be used for many other commercial purposes, including decimation of many of them. Hills are cut so mindlessly that it can easily be called an act of 'hillicide'. Last year, a hill in Chittagong was so dug in at its base (foothill) that it was dangling precariously before coming down crumbling. 

It was a signal people living at the foothills in the hill tracts should not have misread. Also, this is not the first time that landslides have buried scores of people alive in Chittagong hill districts. In 2007, as many as 128 people perished under a mudslide and 150 more were left injured. This time Rangamati has witnessed the highest casualty with 88 dead there. The total number of dead has by now surpassed the 2007 mark of 128. 

Hills are not likely to give in easily if they have tree and grass cover all over them. Also they have held firm for ages and during such times when rainfall was far heavier. Human encroachment upon hills has been growing indiscriminately of late. Tree, herb and shrub cover of the top soil of hills is so randomly disrupted that they find no time for replenishment. Now when rainfall is heavier than usual, there is always a chance of loosening the soil. In some places, hilltops were cut, maybe deliberately, in the shape of a small pond. When rainwater accumulate there, the weight of water helps loosen soil and continuous seeping in water then cause mudslides or landslides of gigantic proportion.

So before pointing the accusing fingers at any natural phenomenon for the mudslides, those should be redirected to people who could not care less for undulating hills. Even the authorities concerned failed to comprehend the importance of preserving the hills and their tree covers. There are instances where hills have been mowed down at the initiative of the government to construct buildings for offices or living quarters. Here is a lesson for both officials and the general public that too much of encroachment upon the surrounding, particularly in hilly areas, can be counterproductive.  

Nature strikes back -and strikes with vengeance -when it is abused grossly and indiscriminately. The indigenous people all across the world know this. They also know how to live in harmony with Nature without disrupting much the planet's ecology, geomorphology and the environment. But the so-called advanced peoples have a different idea. They want to rule over all that they survey. Science and technology have equipped them to bring about phenomenal changes in the planet's shapes and ecology. Great dams, gigantic bridges, atolls in seas and long tunnels through hills and mountains and under rivers are some of the marvels of science. Some of them have offered tremendous advantage to people in terms of travel and commerce. A Suez canal has shortened the roundabout shipping route from India to London by 7,000 km, to less than half the distance. 

However, not all such tinkering with Nature has produced a positive result. A Farakka Barrage has deprived Bangladesh of water flows in its south-western and north-western rivers causing enormous harms to the ecology of the region, including the Sunderbans where increased salinity has posed a threat to its existence.    

For a country like Bangladesh located in the deltaic basin, the problem is two-pronged. The global warming, also a man-induced phenomenon, has caused this double threat. On the one hand, it is not getting the much needed water in its river system from the sources in the north where the mighty Himalayas ranges act as the provider. And on the other, sea rise threatens to inject saline water deeper and deeper. Already the process has begun. The Sidr and Aila have given a heavy dose of the same under which several localities in Khulna and Satkhira are still reeling.

So, there is a need for the government to get its acts together whether it involves preservation of hills from human encroachment or agriculture from shrimp culture. So far as landslides are concerned, it is time the authorities reviewed their decisions on use of hills. Those already damaged or dismantled may not be brought back but at least the obstruction caused by the new structures should be removed. Those still left should be allowed to have enough green cover of trees, herbs and shrubs in order to restore their soil structure.  

nilratanhalder2000@yahoo.com
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