During every dry season, indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts face acute water shortage.

Rivers, waterfalls, canals and lakes are being dried up due to unrestricted stone extraction. Besides, reduction of water level in Kaptai Lake and lowering of groundwater table in the region have also contributed to this water scarcity.

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Yesterday, speakers raised the issue at a webinar titled “Indigenous people in water crisis”.

A media platform of indigenous peoples — IP News BD — arranged the event, moderated by its editor-in-charge Anthony Rema.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association; Pavel Partha, researcher and author; Mathura Bikash Tripura, executive director, Jabrang Welfare Association; Anurug Chakma, assistant professor, department of peace and conflict studies, Dhaka University; advocate Susmita Chakma, and Mohammad Zahed Hasan, programme manager, Manusher Jonno Foundation, spoke at the webinar.

Syeda Rizwana said, “A survey has to be conducted to identify rivers, canals and other waterbodies which have dried up. If there is no water, there will be no tree and wildlife.”

“There are many brick kilns in the hills which are running without any permission and papers. These brick kilns can overheat the surroundings. These should also be stopped immediately,” she added.

Mathura Bikash said, “We have been facing acute water shortage this time of the year for many years. One of the main reasons behind it is that we have already chopped down most of the large ancient trees. The barren hills cannot conserve water which is why we cannot find water in the rivers, canals and springs.”

Anurug Chakma alleged that the forest department is itself involved in eliminating forests. They are collaborating with local ruling party leaders, thugs and elites in eliminating the natural forests, Anurug added.

Susmita Chakma said, “We have been living with water scarcity for years. But, this year, we have witnessed a severe crisis of drinkable and usable water.”

“Usually, women are responsible for fetching water and they often have to walk miles away from home. So, they are fearful of rape, kidnap and sexual violence. Also, they have to spend so much time for domestic chores which is why they cannot participate in income generating activities,” added Susmita.

Pavel Partha said, “Unplanned urbanisation has destroyed our entire ecosystem. Excessive emission of carbon dioxide and overpopulation are some of the reasons behind such unbearable heat. The government should prepare a list of all hilly rivers, lakes and springs which are used as water sources and protect those at all cost.”

Mohammad Zahed Hasan said, “Many women go out to fetch water even at around 3am. The water scarcity has taken a severe turn in the hill tracts areas. The number of NGOs who used to implement projects on solving water crisis is dwindling.”

The speakers demanded that the government take pragmatic steps immediately to solve water crisis in the indigenous districts and villages.   

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