Climate change and increasing deforestation are drying up the streams
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are in danger of losing their prehistoric hill streams—in the Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari regions—due to the impacts of rapid climate change.
The streams on the way to Kaptai upazila—including Debotachhari and Shapchhari—plus 29 other springs on the way to Ruma upazila; and several other rivers in Khagrachhari—including the Chengi and Maini—are on the brink of disappearing.
Most of the hilly regions are named after these streams and they hold significant importance to the indigenous communities as their lives revolve around them.
There was once a time when the livelihoods of people of the CHT thrived because of these streams. However, the times have changed. Due to impacts of climate change, a rise in global temperatures, and increasing deforestation, this essential element of nature is rapidly drying up and is on the verge being lost.
Shaon Farid, an expert on indigenous communities, said the loss of hill streams has altered the food habits of the communities living in the hilly regions.
He also said the water levels have dropped significantly below the surface. The deep wells— prime sources of drinking water in the regions—are becoming increasingly ineffective in providing drinking water.
“If things continue, the Chittagong Hill Tracts will face a critical water shortage in the future.
“The streams run seamlessly and liven-up during rain or the rainy season, but during dry season they become non-existent.”
“A lot of fond memories of the people living here are associated with these streams; which feel more like forgotten nightmares now.”
The whole eco-system of the hill tracts has broken down. The streams are drying up and their beautiful big rocks have all been stolen. Reserved forests, natural forests, and meadows in the region are also disappearing, he added.
“The law exists only on paper and lacks proper implementation.” However, he said the destructive process could possibly be reversed with the combined efforts of all citizens concerned. “Not all hope is lost.”
He added that people need to be made aware regarding climate change and preserving our natural resources. There should be correct implementation of laws and all acts in this regard should be free from corruption. Only then, the hills will heal and nature will restore its balance and harmony.
Jacob Chakma, a resident of Mogbagan village—seven kilometres from Rangamati town—said: “Cultivation land provided Jhum paddy rice and variety of vegetables, while the streams provided small fish, crabs, turtles, and drinking water. These were sources of our staple food.
“We also used the streams as a means of communication and for transpiration of goods. The disappearing streams are not only affecting us, but also the animal kingdom.”
An indigenous researcher Nyo Hla Mong said: “The loss of the streams will also result in the loss all the peoples’ stories and memories which are so intimately woven around them.”
In this regard, CHT development worker Amlan Chakma said: “Ways to recover from this crisis are still possible, and will require sincere initiatives from both government and non-government organizations.
“In the hill tracts, there are some remote regions that government welfare supplies do not reach and where safe water and food supply is scarce. With this present condition, the communities concerned of the region think it is high time we protect the environment in our own best interest.”