Why landslides in Bangladesh’s former conflict zone are becoming deadlier
By AZM Anas
Once rare, casualties from landslides are becoming increasingly common here in the mountainous districts of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, a former conflict zone, as local indigenous communities and landless settlers from other parts of the country rush to build homes on vacant but risky slopes.
The annual monsoon season, which typically begins in June and lasts through October, brings heavy rainfall that can soak the slippery hillsides and dislodge unstable clay soil. Climate change is expected to make extreme weather more volatile and more intense, increasing the likelihood of landslides.
But disaster risk experts and local groups say the dangers are exacerbated by communities themselves, through rapid and unplanned urbanisation. Over more than a decade, the hill tract districts have seen an influx of settlers from more congested parts of Bangladesh.
The indigenous groups that call this part of Bangladesh home, like Masi Jai’s Marma community, have traditionally adapted to the danger by avoiding the steepest slopes and building stilted homes that allow excess water to pass under, rather than through. But even these traditional practices are being left behind as lightweight material like bamboo becomes more expensive and as more families move to urbanising areas like Rangamati town, local aid workers say.
[Shahidul] Islam of Dhaka University said Bangladesh needs to treat landslides as it does other deadly calamities. Bangladesh is a global “role model” for its early warning programmes for cyclones and floods, and yet it’s poorly prepared for landslides, he said.