Food crisis or famine has broken out throughout the Sajek valley under Baghaichari Upazila of Rangamati Hill District severely affecting at least 45 villages mostly located in the hardly accessible areas. Some 2500 lives of 500 families living in 45 villages have fallen prey to the food crisis. The local people inform that some of the affected villages under Baghaichari Upazila are: Udolchari, New Zopui, Old Zopui, New Thangmang, New Lonkar, Betling Para, Betling Tarung Para, Kamalapur, Longtyang, Arun Para, Kachya Para, Sialdai, Gondachara, Thalchara, Egajyachari, Mono Adam, Dhab Adam, Kolok Para, Badolchari, Nimui Para, Hagara Hijing, Duluchari, Dulbonya, etc. localities.
It is mentionable that Sajek is the largest union in Bangladesh located in the north of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). It is situated 67 km northeast of Khagrachhari town and 95 km northwest of Rangamati town. The border of Bangladesh and Tripura and Mizoram State of India is 8 km east from Sajek. Sajek is a very inaccessible area populated by the indigenous Jumma peoples. The Jumma inhabitants of this area chiefly depend on traditional ‘Jum’ cultivation or ‘shifting cultivation’. Usually, they are capable of producing food grains for a period of at the best 6 to 9 months in each year. For the next 3 to 6 months, the whole area remains under the grip of food crisis. Generally, the food crisis continues to prevail from March-April to July-August. When the paddy in the Jum plots gets matured for harvesting, the food deficiency gradually gets disappeared only to reoccur again.
It is further to be noted that food grain in the Jum cultivation was not so good in the last season and the less production in the Jum cultivation is the main reason of today’s crisis. Consequently, the food crisis has been prevailing with the Jum-farmer families during the last 3 months. The inhabitants of remote and inaccessible areas of Sajek union lead their livelihood, apart from gathering forest resources and bamboos, by producing paddy in the foothills and hill slopes. But as the last year witnessed poor harvesting and there has been a lowering in the natural resources alongside, there has arisen financial crisis at least in 45 villages right at the pre-monsoon period. It is learnt that due to lack of food grains, the people therein are taking soft stems of the forest plantain trees as alternative to palatable food. This has had an extreme affect to availability of food. The women and children have become the sufferers to their worst in this crisis.
Most of the villages in Sajek are left far behind from having feeder roads for communication. It is for this reason, the selling prices for the bare necessary consumer goods cost 3 times higher than the usual buying prices for, it requires man-packing to carry them to the villages on foot along the terrains. It is for this reason, most of the commoners cannot afford to buy food grains and this has intensified the severity of the crisis. Most of the hill people are passing their days and in starvation or half-fed simply living on plantain trees and jungle ‘Aloo’ – a kind of naturally grown food stuff that crawls deep into the soil and is dug out of the earth. Besides, the rice that is available at Taka 40 to 50 per kg in Baghaichari Sadar and Khagrachari Sadar is being sold at Taka 90 to 110 per kg.
The CHT Affairs Ministry has allocated 10 tonnes of food grains for the people of 20-25 villages in remote areas of Sajek in Rangamati who have been starving for the last three months. The local public representatives have already written to the higher authorities in the administration, but the government is yet to send adequate aid to the affected villages. The representatives of Baghaichhari Upazila Parishad at their own initiative distributed some rice among the villagers on April 22, but it was very inadequate. Barha Hrishi Chakma, chairman of Baghaichhari Upazila Parishad said, “We need more food assistance. If the government does not act quickly and sincerely, people will die.”
The situation this year would worsen further if food reliefs are not distributed among the affected areas on an emergency basis. According to Sajek Union Parishad Chairman Nelson Chakma, the local administration gave out 10 kg rice for each of 410 families on April 21. “We have sought a further allocation of 600-700 tones of food grains to feed these people”.
In recent past, indigenous Jumma peoples of CHT area faced severe food supply in the aftermath of 2007 rodent attacks that caused massive destruction to their crops in fields and stores. Again in 2012, food crisis hit the indigenous peoples of Sajek of Baghaichari, Bilaichari and Jurachari upazilas of Rangamati; and Thanchi and Ruma upazilas of Bandarban. Around 6,500 affected families were brought under a relief package for six months at that time. But since 2013 until last year, many Jum farmer families in the hinterland of Thanchi upazila abandoned their ancestral homesteads and went east in search of deliverance from starvation and debt. The government had to deploy helicopters last year to deliver food grains in those areas.
Source: Kapaeeng Foundation