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Deadly Landslides in Bangladesh Disrupt Road Networks and Create Food and Fuel Crisis

Screenshot from YouTube video uploaded by user News of the day.

Heavy monsoon rains since the night of Sunday, June 11 caused landslides in five districts of Bangladesh, killing at least 150 people, burying many in their homes while they were asleep. Many still are trapped under the mud, and rescuers are struggling to continue their work as the weather is not in their favor.

Thousands of homes have been also destroyed or damaged in the hill districts of Chittagong, Rangamati, and Bandarban, and more than 10,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters.

In the second day of the landslides in the Rangamati, Chittagong and Bandarban hill areas, the death toll rose to 129 including four rescuers from the army. Rescue work is still going on.

Officials fear that the death toll could rise as rescuers find it difficult to reach remote areas. Without proper rescue gear, the villagers are using shovels to try to dig bodies out of the mud.

It is not the first time that landslides have caused casualties in Bangladesh. Every year, Bangladesh is hit by storms, floods, and landslides during monsoon season. But this time around has had particularly severe consequences. Some of the districts, especially Rangamai, faces acute food, fuel, power and drinking water crises following the landslides. The main road connecting Rangamati to Chittagong and the rest of the country was severed by the landslides and could not be restored till Thursday. The other main road leading to Khagrachari, another hill district, has also has been damaged.

Adibasi Nayan writes on Facebook:

ভূমিধ্বসে এতগুলো যে প্রাণ হারালো এটুকুতে শেষ নয়, আরো অনেকের প্রাণ যাবে'। [..] বুঝতে পারছেন কি? প্রেট্রোল পাম্পে তেল, সংকট, বাজারে মরিচের দাম ৬০০ টাকা কেজি চালের দাম বেড়ে দিগুন, সবজির বাজার ধরা যাচ্ছে না আগুনের মত তাপ’ যে আলুর দাম কেজি ১৫ টাকা সে আলুর দাম দাম বেড়ে ৫০ টাকা কেজি হয়েছে” আরো বাড়বে বলে আশঙ্কা তারপর ও খুলাচ্ছে না মজুদ শেষ, সারা দেশের সাথে যোগাযোগ বিচ্ছিন্ন নৈসর্গিক স্বর্গ রাঙ্গামাটি।

The landslide took scores of lives. But it does not end there. More lives will be lost. […] Do you get it? There is no more fuel available in petrol pumps, Chili costs now 600 taka (six times the normal price), the price of staple rice has doubled. The vegetable prices are out of control, potatoes are 50 taka per kg (from the usual 15 taka). The prices will go up as available stocks are decreasing. Rangamati, the place known for its natural beauty, is detached from the rest of the country.

A damaged road in Rangamati. Image via Dipu Sring Lapcha. Used with permission.

Dipu Sring Lapcha posted some images on Facebook that show the extent of the damage in Rangamati, and he reported that vehicles are not running because of the shortage of fuel.

According to the district officials, the Chittagong-Rangamati road link will take minimum two weeks to repair. Heavy downpour in this region is preventing rescuers from removing the debris and piles of landmass lying around.

Muktasree Sathi Chakma described on Facebook on Thursday, June 15 the panic that indigenous people living in Rangamati were experiencing:

It started raining again… last four days’ life. every night we go to bed after packing our bags, so that if landslides take place or trees start falling down we can run away with the things we need. It started raining again.

And on Friday, June 16 she warned:

It started raining again! To the indigenous peoples in Rangmati, particularly who are in risky houses. Please move out from your home and go to shelter center.

‘We can't do anything except mourn the dead’

On social media, some have criticized that the world is ignoring this tragedy in Bangladesh. Md Abdullah Al Mamun wrote on Facebook:

ম্যানচেস্টারের কয়েকটা মানুষের জন্য কেদে কেটে বুক ভাসায় ফেলার ভান করি।অথচ প্রায় ১৪০ টা মানুষ যারা পাহাড় ধ্বসে মিশে গেছে মাটির সাথে, যাদের মধ্যে ৪ জন সামরিক সেনাও ছিলেন তাদের নিয়ে কোন কোন হ্যাশট্যাগ হয়না, কোন ফ্রেম তৈরী হয় না, কোন সেফ মার্কিং হয়না।

We have seen people mourning for the killings in Manchester. But more than 140, including four soldiers, have already perished in landslides in our own country. We don't see any use of a hashtag or frames or safety checks on Facebook.

Many South Asian countries are frequently hit by flooding and landslides during the monsoon season. More than 200 people were killed in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago when the monsoon triggered landslides and the worst flood in a decade.

According to news reports, Bangladesh's meteorological department warned about excessive rain and possible landslides this time around. Authorities earlier marked around 600 homes as at risk, but they were not shifted to safer spaces.

Each year more and more hills are being demolished for the area to be sold as land plots for settlements. The writer behind Sobuje Bacho (Live in Green) blog alleged:

কিছু অর্থ-লোলুপ প্রভাবশালী মানুষ এবং সরকারের পাহাড় ও ভবন সংক্রান্ত কয়েকজন রুই কাতলা তাদের পাহাড়ের উপর অস্থায়ী ঘর তৈরী করে থাকতে দেয় এবং অর্থ উপার্জন করে। যার কারনে তাদের উচ্ছেদ অভিযান কখনও সফল হয় নি। পাহাড় কেটে বন ধংস করে তারা ঘরবাড়ী বানায় ফলে অতিরিক্ত বৃষ্টি হলে মাটি ভেজা ও ভারী হয়ে পড়ে : যার ফলাফল ভূমিধ্বস।

Some greedy and influential people let people settle in the hills by bribing forest officials. The government cannot stop these people from settling in landslide prone areas. They build their houses by cutting hills and loosening the mud. In the event of excessive rain, this loose soil becomes heavy and they slip. The result is a landslide.

Journalist Probhash Amin wrote:

পাহাড় কেটে, গাছ কেটে, বসতি গড়ে পাহাড়গুলোকে আমরা মৃত্যু উপত্যকায় পরিণত করেছি। এখন প্রকৃতি প্রতিশোধ নিচ্ছে। আমরা অসহায়, নিহতদের স্মৃতির প্রতি গভীর শ্রদ্ধা জানানো ছাড়া আমাদের আর কিছুই করার নেই।

We have demolished the hills, cut the forests to settle people in the hill districts. Now they have become death valleys and nature is taking revenge. We are helpless, we can't do anything except mourn the dead.

 

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