Landslides triggered by heavy downpour in and around Chittagong have so far claimed 194 lives in the last nine years.
However, thousands of slum dwellers still continue to live in the vulnerable hills of the port city under the very nose of the authorities concerned.
At least 127 people lost their lives in a single catastrophic landslide in June 11, 2007. The tragic landslide prompted the formation of two committees which identified 28 reasons behind landslides during monsoon in Chittagong and put forward a 36-point recommendation to avert landslides.
Evacuating people from risky areas and measures to rehabilitate them was one of the key measures suggested in the reports of the two committees headed by the then Chittagong Divisional Commissioner Mokhlesur Rahman.
Formulating a national hill management policy and imposing a ban on setting up of brick kilns within 10 kilometres and housing projects within 5km of the hills also featured in their list of recommendations.
The committee also suggested forming a vigilance to check new settlements in risky areas, immediate construction of boundary walls at risky hills, massive forestations and tougher punitive measures against the hill-cutters.
The green activists alleged that landslide-related casualties continued unabated as most of the recommendations sadly remained ignored till present day.
The green activists said serving customary warning on the people living in vulnerable conditions in the hills would help a little in addressing the perennial landslide problem.
Instead of transitory relocation measures during every monsoon, the authorities concerned should come up with a permanent rehabilitation measures for the people living in the slums of the hills, the green activists pointed out.
This correspondent has recently visited the landslide-prone areas, including Lalkhan Bazar, Motijharna, Tankir Pahar, Batali Hill, Akbar Shah and Bayezid of the city.
It was found that scores of families from low-income background were still living in perilous slopes of the hills.
A section of local influential people construct dwellings grabbing government's land and rent out the houses to poor people, said some slum dwellers living at the foothills of Motijharna area.
“People from low-income group-mostly apparel workers, rickshaw pullers and day labourers are residing here. I have not come to live here out of joy. It is the sky-rocketing rent of house which compelled me to live here vulnerably,” said Mariam Begum, an apparel worker who lives in Tankir Pahar area.
“Ahead of every monsoon, the local administration launches drives and issue customary warning to the settlers to move to safer shelters from the risky hills. However, absence of permanent rehabilitation measures results in the return of the settlers to the vulnerable hill slopes barely days after being evacuated,” said Sharif Chowhan, a green activist.
Referring to the several recommendations put forward for a permanent resolution to avert landslide-related casualties, the green activist claimed that the recommendations had hardly been followed and had remained only on paper.
While talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Abdul Jalil, Chittagong additional deputy commissioner (Revenue), said a meeting would be held on June 20 to discuss the issue.
“We are on high alert to avert any possible landslide. We have already asked all assistant commissioner (land) to take precautionary measures in this regard. We are asking the settlers living vulnerably in the hills to move to safer places,” said the additional deputy commissioner.
“We have to face stiff resistance from the settlers whenever we conduct drives in the risky settlements of the hills. We also sever the illegal utility connections to the slums of the hills,” said Abdul Jalil.