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        Volume 11 |Issue 28| July 13, 2012 |


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Life on the Edge

Kaneta Zillur

Photo: Kaneta Zillur

"Kichhu kori, Kichhu kori!!” the children shouted joyously. Clothed in delightful green t-shirts they had just received, that was perfect for the day that saw both rain and sunshine, the children that were affected by the recent landslide in the Akbar Shah Mazar area in Chittagong, had smiles on their faces after enduring days of agony pain. While some of the families were lucky enough to be outside their houses when the disaster struck, others did not have the same chance at securing their lives.

Oblivious to the possibility that they might have to fight for their lives in the morning, Ashia and her mother had gone to sleep with peaceful minds. Her mother perished the next morning as she went back to save Ashia's little brother, who couldn't escape death either. It could be that the reality of the death of her family hadn't sunk in yet, or it could be that Ashia has immense mental strength. She told me her story with a face that remained perfectly calm and composed, with only the longing of a better life evident in her eyes.

It was at 7 am on June 27 when catastrophe hit the lives of these innocent people. Innocent, but adamant I must add, because even after the death of close ones, these people refuse to leave their houses that are only steps away from were remnants from the disaster are still visible. What looked like clothes, broken wood from the collapsed houses and damaged furniture lay scattered at the foot of the partially collapsed hill. The place looked like a hurricane had recently passed over it, tossing everything on its way. I learnt that during the rescue mission victims were found the same way as the inanimate objects, hands or legs jutting through the ground. I could only imagine the pain that these people had to endure while they pulled loved ones out of the ground. The hill appeared damp from the rain, which showed that the danger of another landslide was still lurking near. On my visit to the disaster area with the Chittagong Research Initiative (CRi) team, I asked around and got the same answer whenever the question of where the people were residing now came up. Many of the residents broke down telling me that they had no place to go and no money to get themselves new homes. Many of the victims of the natural disaster were not even locals from Chittagong, but had actually settled there for work and to build better lives. I remember one victim being all the way from North Bengal. However, even after losing their families and their homes, and having no certainty about their futures, it was amazing to see how these people smiled. They smiled after getting the little attention that the CRi team were giving them that day, by handing out school bags to the children whose parents had perished during that disaster.

The aftermath of disaster.

The children had innocent smiles on their tired sweaty faces. They cluttered around me demanding to know my name and where I came from, all giggling and bursting with glee. It was hard for me to digest the fact that most of them had lost their parents only days ago. However, all wasn't well that day as the CRi team along with myself were bombarded with questions from those who did not receive any relief.

Managing a smile in the midst of a catastrophe. Photo: Kaneta Zillur

This disaster is just a recent addition to what is a very long list of misfortunes that has affected our country. The Chittagong landslide is an example of how poorly planned our cities are and how the poor have been unable to escape their doleful lives. Effective urban planning should be made the top priority for the government or we will remain in the pithole that we are trying so hard to escape from. It was very refreshing to see that CRi, a Chittagong based research organisation headed by Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, took time to go and talk to the people who rarely get an opportunity to be heard. The help they provided was in no way adequate. In fact, we encountered many of the locals there who complained about how they were not given enough relief. Even the children who received the relief bags managed to discover a problem with their bags.

One might be fooled into tagging these people as an ungrateful, unthankful bunch but think again. It is the constant misery that they have to endure day in day out that brought these people to this position of eternal complaints and dissatisfaction. As the little girl in the green shirt called Rumki quietly told me 'Apu amra kichhu korbo!' I couldn't help but smile. She was right! It is high time we did something.


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