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Stealing Beauty

The Disaster
It was a year ago, 11 June 2007, when heavy monsoon rainfalls completely engulfed slums around the hilly areas of Chittagong, taking the lives of 128 people, which included 59 children and left 150 people critically injured. The reason for this disaster was pointed out to be the government's failure to curb rampant hill-cutting, which left hundreds and thousands of people to the dangers of hill-cutting. Professor of Geography and Environmental studies in Chittagong University Shahidul Islam explained, "The only reason for Monday's mud slide in the cantonment area is cutting hills indiscriminately... We were warning about this risk for decades, and this event our fears real." Architect Jerina Hossain said, "Cutting hills made the soil slippery and loose. As a result, it came down with the rain.”

8000 people were evacuated and the government promised stern action against those responsible for the hill-cutting. “None whoever he is would be spared from stern legal consequences if found guilty for cutting hills. The government is determined to bring them book and ensure their punishments for who's lust more than one hundred innocent people made victims in landslide” the Communication Adviser, Matin threatened days later.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest and Chittagong Development Authority prohibited hill-cutting in 2005, but to no avail. Till date, 100 cases has been filed against culprits, with the verdict still not clear.

Present Times
And now you may wonder why bring this up a year later. Well, after a recent visit to my hometown of Chittagong, I wasn't the least surprised to see that hill-cutting had not stopped. In fact it had only become more discreet but the loss of one of our country's beauties was being tarnished and decimated at a fast rate. Environmentalist blame influential politicians, businessmen, contractors, goons and blind law enforcers who form their own syndicates and carry out their dirty work.

The latest example, and a shocking one at that, was when Development Organization of the Rural Poor (ironically) were accused of trying to grab the lands belonging to Tripura Nationality, in the hills of Bandarban and also another allegation against the father of two BNP leaders who forcefully grabbed the lands of locals in Khagrachhari. Both the cases are still being investigated and it is believed in many quarters that the hills of those places would soon be cut also for the purpose of 'development'.

Chittagong has been losing its hills at a rapid rate. Decades ago, the reason for cutting hills was to find new agricultural lands. Then, hills were not flattened but rather cleared of greenery and crops were planted. But now, the fault isn't the poverty stricken state of Bangladesh but rather greedy real estate developers, who cut hills and build houses to meet demands of huge mansions and flats, especially in areas like Sylhet where the expatriates are large in numbers and thus demand extravagant houses. Even in Chittagong, the lack of land and the prevalence of brick-kilns, demand for industrial space and residential areas, hill-cutting goes on, unabated.

Legal notices regarding hill-cutting were served to all bodies concerned including ministers and secretaries of environment, forest, land and public work ministries, demanding immediate action. Yet, the consequence of such is hard to see. 'I loved the hills, since I was a little boy. We cleared little forest for farming, but now too much is being cut. The scenery has changed and this is certainly not what we wanted.' Abdul Haque, a local in Khagrachhari replied when asked what he thought of this activity.

At least 50,000 people in Khagrachhari alone are vulnerable to hill slides, as they build houses and commercial buildings without proper planning and safety precautions. No initiative has yet been taken to re-habilitate the people in the most disaster prone areas. It's a sad day. And we witness not only the loss of our heritage but we also hear whispers of premonition, more disasters looming, more lives to be lost, and yet nothing is being done. False promises have blinded our eyes for long enough…

Culprits Identified, Actions Declared
200 culprits have so far been identified in 155 Hilly districts of CHT. Of them the most notable ' Former fisheries and livestock minister Abdullah Al Noman and detained Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) Mayor ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, Chittagong City Corporation (CCC), Kafco, KEPZ and Abul Khair Group. In the port city, hills were devoured for setting up housing projects, brickfields, hospitals and other establishments in around 48 areas. Fifty people and thirteen organisations and commercial firms were involved. Indiscriminate hill-cutting went on for developing at least 12 housing projects in the city. These include Nandan Housing and Spandan Properties (North Pahartali), Kube Housing (Khulshi), Chakrsho Kanan (Nasirabad), VIP Residential Project (South Khulshi) of the CCC, Gaosia Lake City (Khulshi), Shapla Housing (Pahartali Biswa Colony) and Khulshi Garden View Housing Project.Developer of Garden View Project SM Jamir Uddin levelled a large hill spreading over 42 acres of land since 2002, sources said.' (quotation from bangladeshnews.com)

The laws regarding hill-cutting where implemented and revised and set out by DOE are as follows-
1. Nobody can cut and /or raze hills/till as without prior permission,

2. Otherwise according to law he will be punished 10 years imprisonment or 10-lakh taka [$15,400] monetary punishment or both,

3. The government can give approval to hill cut/raze through a committee's approval whose head will be DC (highest ranked administrative officer in a district) and the main criteria for such approval are:

a. The cutting or razing of the hill shall not cause any serious damage to any hill, building, structure or land adjacent to or in the vicinity of the hill, or

b. The cutting or razing of the hill shall not cause any silting of or obstruction to any drain, stream or river, or

c. The cutting or razing of the hill is necessary in order to prevent the loss of life or property, or

d. The cutting of the hill is such as is normally necessary for construction of dwelling house without causing any major damage to the hill, or

E. The cutting or razing of the hill is necessary in the public interest.

4. Approval fee for hill cutting/razing: the fee is at least Tk10,000 ($165) or for bigger area 10,000 per “bigha” (1335.5 m2).

The fact that hills can be cut with permission and by providing a fee, do not state what is the criterion for granting permissions. The decision is left to a particular committee and thus this may lead to corruptions. Also members may not take into consider the long turn effects and feel that barren hills are better off being cut and turned into say, housing projects. The most important factor is that there is a lack of monitoring of the rules and thus hill cutting continues, affecting bio-diversity, the environment and beckons possible tragedies.

If something is really being done than it is deemed invisible. The poor people are not being helped and tribal people are losing lands, while Bangladeshis are losing the beautiful, scenic Bangladesh, of which we have been so proud of for so long. Something concrete needs to be done and it needs to be done fast. A hill can be cut in a matter of months but it can never ever be replaced again. Beauty can be tarnished, but not created by mankind. Natural beauty cannot, anyway. Let us all appeal to the government to look into this matter and find a solution, and fast.

By Osama Rahman
Sources- The Bangladesh Independent, The Daily Star, Bioline.org, Eric Avebury {ericavebury.blogspot.com), New Age and special thanks to the helpful people of CHT.

Summer diseases-
They are out there to get you

Its summer! All the time you spend being happy cherishing this season, I am just sorry to burst your bubble. As you run in the sun being merry (though I doubt anyone sane would do that), people are there in pain with the diseases that summer presents us with. While you are being run down by the thought of having those diseases, I thought of interviewing them. And if you call me insane, I'll make the diseases get u. *eevil laugh*

Firstly, I came across dehydration. The old bloke sluggishly sat on one corner, and it became cranky when I made water come in front of it. Anyways, dehydration is the most common summer disease. It makes your mouth is dry, and then you'll feel lethargic, you'll have a headache. It made me acquainted with the fact that it can do more. If it gives you a rare case of over hydration, you'll have a shortness of breath and swollen legs and organs. Scaaaaaaarrrry…! Then there comes fever along with the unconsciousness.

Prevention: Drink water!!! Drinking two cups of water in the morning and half a cup every half hour will do the trick.

Rating: 7.5/10.
Then comes Skin problems, who actually gave me a charming welcome. (Yeah, I aint letting it get me). Its favorite prey is people with very dry or sensitive skin. The most famous part of the family is Eczema. It doesn't really sound delightful and nor does its scientific name, atopic dermatitis. Heat is one element that helps it get aggravated. The symptoms are redness; itchiness and hardening of the skin, like rashness and dryness. Yeah, that's gonna suck.

Prevention: Bathing frequently helps keep the skin stay moist, drinking lots of water helps, and if serious, ask the doc!

Rating: 10/10. Try living with bad skin!
As I looked for more potentials to be interviewed, I met Eye damage. It was highly illuminated, and the reason was it gets fuelled by sun's UV rays. It did not really want to give me an interview, and just shut me off by saying long-term exposure of the sun rays can result in photokeratitis, sunburn of the cornea, which can lead to vision loss. That's what I call 'part'…grr

Prevention: Get cool shades!
Rating: 8.5/10.
Moving on, I found Respiratory problem. Hot air makes it more convenient for the chemicals to get reacted, and they get turned into really nasty things. It grinned at me and said that these pollutants increase symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and may lead to emphysema. This is a real trouble for you, and you will suffer.

Prevention: Nothing, not one. You're screwed. Hah! Well, that's only me… you always have the doc for help.

Rating: 9.5/10. Yeah, it messes you up.
Last but not the least, I found heat stroke. Its coolness could make any girl fall for it, but suffer. It works in a very radical way, and as it's the 'new' sickness in town and it has its unique style. At first there's the sun's rays that comes and makes one feel dizzy. As the heat prevails, the victim's pulse gets down and he becomes unconscious. His blood pressure gets low and his body gets cold. Before he knows it, he's there, lying unconscious. The extremities can lead to coma…

Prevention: Once again, water…
Rating: 12/10… it IS a cool disease, and you will get screwed!

Till then, enjoy the vices of summer, as well as the good parts, and enjoy. Drink plenty of water and stay safe.

By Raida Kifait Reza
Thanks to Dr. Shafiqur Rahman for the disease facts.

Virtual Relationships

A few years ago, I decided to try getting a pen-pal because it sounded like fun having a friend in another country… and it was part of my English assignment. I saw the name of a particular girl who was the same age as I was in a magazine, who was looking for a pen-pal, and I emailed her. We become good friends wand even considered flying out somewhere to meet each other.

Although she and I hardly correspond with each other now, making friends online was indeed a great way to meet new people and learn about different cultures and lifestyles for me. With the beginning of sites like Friendster and MySpace and the immense popularization of MySpace, Facebook and Orkut, connecting with people online has become simpler, easier and cheaper. It's helped millions all over the world connect with old friends, make new ones, and share their thoughts, videos and photos. 'I love networking online' gushes Munayem, 17 years old. 'Facebook has completely changed how I connect with friends and what I do online. It makes connecting much easier.' Other networking sites like Shaadi.com and Match.com help singles find dates or life partners with the sites letting you state yours preferences and interests and then setting you up with people with a successful 'match'.

However is it all good and fun over the internet? Many vulnerable people, such as youngsters or older persons may be exploited over the internet, either financially or sexually. In 2002, a 13-year old girl from Connecticut, Christina Long had a promising life ahead of her. However she made friends with strangers over the internet and in the May of that year, she was found strangled to death with the police believing that she had met her killer online.

Although all relationships do not have to end on such extreme terms, there is no use denying that the internet allows its users to hide behind a wall of secrecy. 'I met a guy once in an online dating site last year' explains Mayeesha, a 21 year old. 'He seemed really nice and funny and on his profile he described that he was 5 feet 9 inches and he looked cute on his profile picture. Imagine my horror when me finally sends me his real picture after many months, and I see he is actually 5 feet 3 inches and going bald!' Users have the ability to lie about their height, weight, what they do, just in fact about everything right down to their name.

Chat rooms have also become a source of concern because of the real danger it provides to kids meeting unwanted strangers. The appeal of anonymity is very reassuring as many kids unburden things about themselves over the internet under a different name making it easier for people who want to take advantage of them predators to do so. The internet is a wonderful way to make friends with people you know and don't know. It opens up an array of opportunities to meet people you find never have otherwise. However, unregulated or without good sense, it can become a dangerous place to meet those who you would have found shiftily loitering around your school yard a decade ago. Parents should talk to their teens about the danger of the internet and set up clear rules about internet usage. Don't let other people ruin your experience of the World Wide Web.

By Nisma Elias
References: usatoday.com, truTV.com



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