The government has allocated some 10 tonnes of foodgrains for the people of 20-25 villages in remote areas of Sajek in Rangamati who have been starving for the last three months.
Scarcity of rice because of low production in this year’s jhum (slash-and-burn method) cultivation and eventual skyrocketing of its price in the local markets have forced around 400 families of those villages to go hungry almost every day.
It is the second phase of government aid to be distributed among the indigenous peoples, some of whom have come to the Sajek tourist town on April 21 walking rough roads and terrains for two to three days to receive the rice assistance.
Price of coarse rice has gone as high as Tk90-110 a kg from Tk30-35 in their locality that include Puran Jopui, Notun Jopui, Udolchhari, Puran Thangnong, Notun Thangnong and Tharum Para villages.
People need to travel around 15km to go to Machalong Bazar in Sajek Sadar to get rice at fair price. Many have resorted to feeding on alternatives like spuds and gourds.
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Baghaihat market traders association General Secretary Md Jewel said the prices of goods are normal in Baghaihat and Machalong, but it is increasing by three-four folds for the transportation to the markets in the affected areas that takes two-three days.
The markets lying within the closer reach of those villages are situated in Mizoram state of India. Opening up border haats in cooperation with India could have reduced the problem of rice price hike, suggested the locals.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry has allocated 10 tonnes of rice under Rangamati district administration to assist those starving people. More allocations will be made after further assessment of the situation, according to officials.
State Minister for CHT Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing told the Dhaka Tribune that the ministry is ready to tackle the “temporary crisis” in Sajek.
“If needed, more foodgrains will be allocated,” said the state minister.
[caption id="attachment_60359" align="alignnone" width="870"] Instead of distributing relief among the starving people of Bandarban, many unscrupulous traders are selling the government-allotted sacks of rice to those desperate for food. In this photo from May 2016, a labourer is seen carrying a rice sack with a government seal to a boat in Thanchi Bazar, eventually to be sold elsewhere
Sajek Union Parishad Member Sushila Chakma said food crisis has become a yearly phenomenon for the hard-to-reach areas in the Sajek valley and it is the women and children who suffer the most in the crisis.
The situation this year would worsen further if food reliefs are not distributed among the affected areas on an emergency basis, she added.
She also recommended taking long-term plans to overcome the crisis.
Also Read: A quiet exodus
In recent past, food crisis hit the people of Sajek, Bilaichhari, Jurachhari upazilas of Rangamati; and Thanchi and Ruma upazilas of Bandarban in 2012. Around 6,500 affected families were brought under a relief package for six months at that time.
But since 2013 until last year, many Jhum farmer families in the hinterland of Thanchi abandoned their ancestral homesteads and went east in search of deliverance from starvation and debt. The government had to deploy helicopters last year to deliver foodgrains in those areas.
Rangamati Deputy Commissioner Prokash Kanti Chowdhury said five tonnes of rice have so far been distributed in the affected areas through the chairmen and members of the union parishads.
The upazila nirbahi officer has also been asked to make a list of the people starving in those areas.
According to Sajek Union Parishad Chairman Nelson Chakma, the local administration gave out 10kg rice for each of 410 families on April 21.
“We have sought a further allocation of 600 tonnes of foodgrains to feed these people,” Nelson told the Dhaka Tribune, adding that he had informed the higher authorities about the possible situation two months back.