While food distribution has already begun in Thanchi under Government supervision, it’s not reaching as widely as needed.
Thanchi is a remote part of Bangladesh in the CHT areas, which have been experiencing severe food shortages. However, accurate information of the situation in media has been low due to its remoteness. The Government has also limited access to the area as it fears “irresponsible “reporting may tarnish its image. Meanwhile, various teams of workers and volunteers have been to the area and a general consensus has been building up about the causes that triggered the situation.
At least five interlocked causes may be cited for the situation which experts say may last till September:
a) The impact of Komen cyclone last year has been heavy. Due to continuous rain, farmers could not clean the bush by burning the bush before the jhum plantation, which is the traditional way. As a result, they cultivated only a smaller part of their land, making food shortage inevitable.
b) There was deterioration of the local law and order situation as several local armed groups demanded money from the villagers. When refused, in one case they shot and killed one of the villagers. As a result, many farmers fled, losing the planting season.
c) WFP in partnership with the GOB had supplied emergency food till two years back. However, this emergency programme was stopped/paused and as a result there was no bailing out of the hardest hit areas when the crisis occurred.
d) As the rivers dried up, the remote area could not be reached, which made transportation very expensive. Lack of communication also made market access of goods impossible for food supply to Bandarban.
e) Supplementary income options were slashed when a ban was placed on bamboo harvesting in the Sangu reserved forest. This was part of a forest protection programme but as no other income options were made, it led to considerable loss of income for the villagers. Lack of market access also contributed to reduced income.
Food supply needs wider distribution plan
Food distribution was started by the Government by carrying food via helicopters, without which relief distribution would not have been possible. However, wide and targeted action has not yet been taken. This is partly because “household hunger assessment” and matching delivery procurement and supply has not begun fully. Thus, many families in the preliminary assessment phase are receiving a limited quantity of food which they are taking back to the community and sharing with other hunger hit families. This however reduces food intake per family.
Food is also reaching the people closer to the river and main transportation routes more. There are some left out areas which need quick attention. It is thought this will happen once the programme becomes more extensive.
At least one thousand households in two unions are on the verge of starvation (only one meal a day with foraged food). Another two to three thousand households will face the same situation in the coming months.
The Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban went to Thanchi on May 31 and supervised relief operation. However, as it has become a “prestige “issue, the GOB wants to handle the situation all on its own. It has asked all the NGOs to not initiate any food distribution work and is not allowing anyone involved with such work to enter the area.