Tuesday 30 July 2013

Two women killed by landslide in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Two women were killed in the Lalkhan Bazar area of Chittagong City, Bangladesh, when a 6 m chunk of soil fell onto their home between 4.00 and 5.00 am local time on Sunday 28 July 2013 (between 10.00 and 11.00 pm on Saturday 27 July, GMT). The two, described as Fatema Begum (38) and her daughter Kusum Akhter (15), migrant workers from Comilla who were employed in the garment-making industry, were dwelling in a tin-roofed hut, one of a 'colony' of 30-35 such huts in an area cleared by cutting into a hillside at 90°, by the colony's landlord, Amir Hossain, a second colony, comprising about 20 homes rented from a traffic policeman, is situated at the top of this cutting.

Neighbours attempting to rescue the victims of the 28 July 2013 Chittagong landslide. Anurup Kanti Das/The Daily Star.

The incident took place following heavy rainfall associated with the monsoon season; landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall.

Many cities in Bangladesh have seen an explosion in numbers of migrant workers, attracted by growth in the garment industry, which while notorious for its poor conditions, at least pays cash, a valuable commodity in a country with a population traditionally dependent on subsistence farming, where farmland is increasingly being lost to flood events associated with a warming climate and the population is rising at a rate of 1.6% per year. 

This has fueled an expansion in slum housing, which in the case of Chittagong has led to the expansion of housing into hilly areas vulnerable to landslide events in the monsoon season, where it is estimated that around 5000 families are currently dwelling. Local authorities have tried to relocate some of these vulnerable people to tent dwellings erected on public land, but this often leads to evacuated dwellings being relet to newer migrants.

The approximate location of the 28 July 2013 Chittagong landslide. Google Maps.

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