During the rainy season every year, the death toll of people living in the foothills increases. Since a devastating landslide in 2007 – that killed 129 people – the administration has been active, every year, in evacuating individuals living in the risky foothills. However, this initiative is absent at present due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Experts concerned said as people are staying at their homes due to Covid-19 and any landslide will cause more deaths.
At a high-level meeting in February at Chattogram Circuit House – with the participation of Chattogram divisional commissioner ABM Azad, environment minister Md Shahab Uddin, and secretary of the ministry Ziaul Hasan – the Hills Management Committee decided to conduct evacuations, however, this has not been implemented yet.
At the meeting, it was decided that all the illegal gas, electricity, and water connections of all the risky houses in the foothills be cut.
Additional deputy commissioner of Chattogram Kamal Hossain said illegal residents of the foothills have not been evacuated as it has not yet been decided where they will stay during Covid-19. When heavy rain starts, the administration will evacuate and accommodate them in shelters.
According to the district administration, there are 28 risky foothills where people are staying. Among the riskiest 17 hills, 304 families live on seven government-owned hills. Another 531 families live on 10 privately-owned hills.
Chattogram City Corporation, Railway, Wasa, and the Public Works Department own the public hills in Chattogram. None of them was seen evacuating people from foothills.
On the port city's Moti Jharna Hill and Batali Hill, brick-built homes and shanties were built after the two hills were cut. There is even a four-storey building along with shanties on the hill – with gas, electricity and water connections. Allegedly, local influential people, in collaboration with corrupt service organisation officials, have been doing all these illegal activities for a long time.
According to the Department of Environment, there are almost 30 hills in Chattogram. Unscrupulous public and private organisations, plus locals, are constructing: houses, shops, brick kilns, and industries on them. They work day or night.
"The death tolls of foothills residents will increase until they are rehabilitated somewhere permanently. Without political patronage, it is never possible to grab a hill and construct houses there. Hill-grabbers are solely responsible for all deaths in the hills. If they are not brought to book the problem will not be solved," said Professor Dr Mohammad Al Amin, Department of Forestry and Environment at Chattogram University.
Among 835 families living at risk on 17 hills: 22 families live on hills adjacent to Railway Lake City Residential area; 28 families on hills adjacent to East Firoz Shah Lake; 28 families in Koibylodhan Bishwa Colony Hill owned by the public works department; 10 families on City Corporation Hill adjacent to the Department of Environment office; 162 families on Moti Jharna and Batali Hill owned by the railway, roads and highway plus public works departments, and Wasa; 26 families on privately-owned AK Khan Hill; 33 families on Harun Khan's hill; 43 families on the hill adjacent to the Polytechnic College; 34 families on Madhu Shah Hill; 33 families on the hill adjacent to Forest Research Institute; 28 families on the hill adjacent to Akbar Shah Residential area; 16 families on the hill adjacent to Amin Colony Tank; 11 families on the hill adjacent to Lalkhan Market Jameyatul Ulum Madrasa; 11 families on Vera Fakir Hill; nine families on Foyez Lake Residential area adjacent hill; and eight families on MR Siddique Hill.