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Can’t you hear their cries?

  • Published at 06:07 pm June 19th, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:11 pm June 19th, 2017
Can’t you hear their cries?

This week, we witnessed the loss of over 160 innocent lives to a climate disaster in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), a tragedy that has touched many people nationally and also internationally.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deep shock over the huge casualties and large-scale devastation caused by landslides in five south-eastern hill districts of Bangladesh.

He sent his condolence message to the Bangladesh government through their diplomatic mission. UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Robert Watkins has also expressed his solidarity with the families of the deceased.

But I haven’t yet seen the government of Bangladesh declare a national emergency, or even issue a statement mourning the tragedy.

I’ve been following numerous talk shows and different print and online news covering the issue. So many heated debates have risen regarding the issue, but no one is thinking of a permanent solution.

Is Jhum cultivation to blame?

At one point, some of them tried to blame it on the traditional (shifting) cultivation system, which is widely known as jhum cultivation. I would argue that they have very little knowledge of this traditional system, since shifting cultivation is done without harming the land.

I would rather blame the ruling classes of this country, including the political parties (starting from the Ziaur Rahman regime in the 1980s) and the military, for their political demographic engineering and unlawful land-grabbing for many years in the region.

We know how the government of Bangladesh has silently sponsored the political migration of non-indigenous people from different parts of Bangladesh to the CHT since the 1980s.

As a result, the population of non-indigenous people dramatically increased from about 7% in 1971 to over 60% by 2011 (the figure was 1.8% in 1947), and this overcrowding is one of the major causes of landslides in CHT.

Another factor is the unplanned hill-cutting and unbridled deforestation by capitalists, without any respect for the traditional knowledge of local communities in the region, and with the sole intention of enriching themselves. Over the last two decades, deforestation in Bangladesh, especially in the CHT, has been excessive.

Now the question is: Who will take the responsibility for the loss of innocent lives?

Forest management

Studies have found that when indigenous communities in the CHT manage forest resources, they do so in a sustainable manner, striking a balance between exploitation and conservation.

Those studies recommend that the indigenous model of forest management should be expanded if we want to save our forests.

Instead, we are focusing more on planting foreign trees for personal benefits like commercial tree plantations.

Illegal logging, dam mega-projects, and forced displacement are responsible for the accelerated destruction of those precious ecosystems, which means the destruction of their bio-diversity.

Rubber, teak, and eucalyptus monocultures for export have provoked negative ecological effects by the substitution of part of the forest, as well as conflicts between local communities belonging to the 13 indigenous Jumma groups that inhabit the region.

Now the question is: Who will take the responsibility for the loss of innocent lives?

We still have enough time to protect the culture and the livelihoods of the CHT Jumma people.

It is therefore crucial for the government to take appropriate measures to make the ruling classes of this country understand that the diversified flora and fauna they are destroying are part and parcel of our lives and are extremely important for our climate.

We should respect the diversity of nature and the traditional knowledge of the indigenous Jumma peoples.

John Tripura works for the Kapaeeng Foundation.

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