Every morning around 10am, 20-year-old Singpai Mro starts her journey towards a creek about a kilometer away from her home. On her back she carries several casks and bottles to fill with water. Her two-year-old daughter Katsing Mro accompanies her.
Like Singpai, every woman of the Chimbuk Headman Para would visit the creek twice or even thrice everyday to shower and fetch water for household use.
But Singpai does not go with other women. She gave birth five months ago to a baby boy named Rumaiya. She rests in the morning and leisurely strolls to the creek every day.
The women would go to the creek early in the morning to take a shower. They would return home with water for cooking and move to jhum lands for cultivation.
After finishing up their work, the villagers would visit the creek in the afternoon to freshen up and replenish water supplies at home.
When discussing the distance between their home and water source, Singpai said with a wry smile that hard times are on their way. She referred to the eventual exhaustion of the creek within three to four weeks, which will force her and others to travel further away to fetch water.
Paring Mro, the 32-year-old headman of the 65-family strong community told the Dhaka Tribune: “From June-November, we used the nearest creek as our water source. But the rest of the year from December-May, we are forced to travel three times further to find water when this creek dries up.”
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Photo: Abu Siddique
Shifting one place to another
About five to six years ago, a group of 20 Bom families migrated to an area roughly halfway between Bandarban sadar and Chimbuk hill and set up a village five to six years ago.
The families came from Sarong Para, a village 3km away, where they faced severe shortage of water. A large creek flows by the new village. But how long it will support the village is a question that is already being asked.
Since 2016, the creek has been drying up during dry periods of the year.
Siam Nem Bom, a 56-year-old woman who moved with her husband and three daughters, now have to go out and search for water further away, every single day.
Cause & effect
Indigenous villages in hilly areas are normally set up near creeks. But rapid deforestation has caused numerous creeks to dry up after monsoon.
Forestry expert Farid Uddin Ahmed solely blamed rapid deforestation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) for the water scarcity in the region for a certain period every year.
According to Bangladesh Forest Department, the volume of hill forest in the country is around 13,77,000 hectares which is around 9.33% of the country’s area. The hill forests in the CHT are spread around in three districts – Khagrachhari, Rangamati and Bandarban.
However, forest experts say the rapid depletion of the country’s hill forests has been due to rampant exploitation of the forest to meet rising demands of agricultural land. As population increases in the hill tracts, the need for land leads to expansion and eventual consumption of the forests.
Aside from land expansion, illegal tree-logging by numerous unscrupulous entrepreneurs and increasing tobacco cultivation – which requires large volumes of wood to cure tobacco – are also responsible for the rapid deforestation in the region, said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer’s Association.
In addition, changing patterns of rainfall across the country as a result of global warming, wildfires caused by heat waves and lack of rainfall, are also contributing to the rapid deforestation, said Syeda Rizwana.
Ray of hope
The government and various NGOs have taken initiatives to stem the rapid deforestation to address the problem.
One initiative involves introducing mango and lychee plantations to the hill.
“Primarily, we are trying to explain to the locals that they need the forests to meet their water needs,” said Jahangir Alam, project director of Chittagong Hill District Development Board.
He said the board aims to plan fruit orchards to areas where deforestation has already taken place. Jahangir added that the fruit trees will not only endure, but also provide financial support to the local communities.
Since 1996, several NGOs and the government have been promoting hill orchard to increase the income and living standards of the locals.