Hundreds of acres of reserved forest in Rangamati’s Sajek is being burned down in fire made for traditional jhum (slash-and-burn) cultivation.
Jhum farming, practised in Chattogram hill tracts, requires clearing of the forest areas to sow seeds after the first considerable rainfall during April-May.
The age-old system damages biodiversity of the forest, including rare species of flora and fauna in the hill area. As a result, nature loses its balance while wild animals, birds and insects become threatened.
During a recent visit, the UNB correspondent found that the fire has spread over hundreds of acres of reserved forest and surrounding local residential areas. This is threatening biodiversity of the hill area.
Due to destruction of forest areas, the water level has gone down and there is an acute shortage of water in the hills and wells, resulting in increasing water borne diseases.
In order to keep the locals away from setting fire to the hills, the administration often issues stern messages, but the practice could not be stopped.
Local Sajek UP Chairman Nelson Chakma and village head claim they set fire to the hills as they have no alternative source of income and food.
They have to starve if they don't cultivate in this way. They say if the government creates alternative employment opportunities for them, they will stop burning forests for cultivation.
Abul Fazal, president of the Baghaichhari Environmental Protection Committee and a lecturer of biology at Kachalong Government College, said burning down of forest in the name of jhum farming would have dire consequences.
“Water levels would fall and disasters will follow. The government should arrange alternative source of income and food for the locals. Otherwise, the environmental catastrophe will take a deadly turn,” he said.