Bangladesh is known to be a disaster prone country. The geographical location, land characteristics, multiplicity of rivers and the monsoon climate make it highly vulnerable to natural disasters.
The common disasters in Bangladesh include floods, cyclones, storm surge, landslides, river bank erosion, earthquake, drought, salinity intrusion, fire and tsunami etc. Recently, landslide has emerged as a silent killer disaster in the country. A landslide could be defined as the movement of rock, debris or earth down a slope. They result from the failure of the materials which make up the hill slope and are driven by the force of gravity. Some of the most common types of landslide are earth slides, rock falls and debris flows. The movement of landslide material can vary from abrupt collapses to slow gradual slides. Sudden and rapid events are the most dangerous because of a lack of warning and the speed at which material can travel down the slope as well as the force of its resulting impact. Landslides can be triggered by natural causes or by human activity. In Bangladesh, it has caused fatalities, environmental degradation and damage to homestead, roads, and agricultural land. In the past few weeks a large number of people died of landslide in the hilly regions particularly in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts. This phenomenon has become quite regular in the recent past. It is costing not only lives of innocent people but also their homes and properties. In the last two months, heavy rainfall triggered a series of landslides in Rangamati, Chittagong and Bandarban, three hilly districts of the country, and killed close to 200 people. These landslides were perhaps the worst in the country’s history.
It has been mentioned earlier that the landslides could be caused by natural as well as by human activities. In Bangladesh, it has been reported that both the two reasons are responsible for this natural disaster of landslide. In the recent past natural reason like excessive rainfall under the influence of monsoon in overwhelming cases was the reason. But what is alarming is the fact that manmade reasons helped in immediately triggering off the disaster. For quite sometimes, there has been indiscriminate clearing of forest lands and hill cutting for a number of purposes by some unscrupulous quarters in the name of land development for agriculture, development of settlements and other host of reasons across the country in general and more particularly in the hilly regions. Here it may be mentioned that man land ratio in Bangladesh is very high making it the most thickly populated country in the world. Currently, Bangladesh population density is 1 138.2 people per square kilometer as of July 2017.
Density of population is calculated as permanently settled population of Bangladesh divided by total area of the country. Total area is the sum of land and water areas within international boundaries and coastlines of Bangladesh. This extreme high population is putting pressure on hilly areas of the reasons mentioned earlier. These are coupled with other limitations like lack of proper land use plan keeping environmental sustainability in mind and lack of enforcement of the rules and regulations by the assigned authorities.
Bangladesh has received worldwide recognition for its acquired competencies in combating disaster both pre and post situations. Because of this competency it has been able to drastically reduce particularly loss of human lives and other physical assets in general. But it is surprising though the magnitude of landslide related disaster is limited compared to other disasters like flood, cyclone and tidal surge, to name a few, the loss of human lives and assets are very high. This particular fact is unacceptable even from the point of view of human rights. It needs to be mentioned here that the right to live is the most important human rights of the citizens of the country.
To address this disaster situation concerted efforts are needed from concerned stakeholders like the government, the people who are susceptible to disaster like landslides and the local communities and peoples representatives. The government on its part needs to formulate policy and rules and regulation particularly on forest conservation and management and hill cutting, ensuring environmental sustainability. At the same time the government’s concerned agencies also need to closely monitor the compliance of those particularly in the landslide prone areas and regions. The other issue that needs to be addressed is the development of human settlements on hill slopes and very close or adjacent to hills where landslide probability could be very high. For this purpose, we also need clear cut policies and guidelines. These policies should be developed by the government and updated from time to time.
The vulnerable communities also have significant roles to play in complying with the policy directives of the government. They also need to be aware of the dangers related to landslides and how this could be avoided by relocating their homesteads and other establishments from the landslide vulnerable areas. The local communities should also come forward to help the vulnerable sections in the above mentioned efforts. They should also join hands with government agencies in disseminating information relating to early warning and possible evacuation of the susceptible people for the landslide disaster prone areas. Here the local government representatives and indigenous leadership wherever available should play an active role at all phases in averting the disaster and also minimising its effects on human lives and properties.
It is perceived that if above measures are taken with the active participation of the concerned stakeholders disaster like landslides which are to a large extent human induced may not be fully avoided but its disastrous impact on human lives and their assets and properties could be greatly minimised.
The writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh. The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.