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Food crisis hits hill tribes

Thousands in Chittagong Hill Tracts at severe risk following poor crop yields

An acute food crisis has forced many hill tribe communities to forage for wild potatoes An acute food crisis has forced many hill tribe communities to forage for wild potatoes
  • Magdaline D’Silva, Bandarban
  • Bangladesh
  • April 5, 2012
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Thousands of tribal people are facing starvation in the remote southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts as an acute food shortage resulting from poor crop yields and low prices begins to bite.

At least 46,000 people in Bandarban and Rangamati districts are foraging for food, even resorting to eating leaves from trees, on hillsides and forests, local residents said this week.

Many are complaining that government and non-governmental organizations have not yet provided them any relief supplies.

“We’ve suffered for more than a month, but no government agency or NGO has come to help us,” said Manindra Chakma (not his real name), a tribal Chakma from Rangamati district.

There have been no reported deaths yet, but locals say without aid, it is only a matter of time.

Oti Chandra Tripura, a local leader in Bandarban said at least 30 families in his village are threatened with starvation and children are the worst hit.

Local government officials have denied ignoring the crisis and have tried to reassure people, saying plans are being drawn up to provide “the best possible support to alleviate their suffering.”

“I’ve drawn up a list of at least 1,314 families who are seriously affected and sent it to the district council and deputy commissioner [the highest government official in the district],” said Maliram Tripura, chairman of a union council in Bandarban.

A union council represents several villages and is the smallest administrative unit in a district.

“We’ve allocated 10 metric tons of rice for victims in the Rangamati area. We are also trying to coordinate initiatives with NGOs. We will start distributing food as soon as possible,” said Rangamati district council chairman Brishoketu Chakma.

An official from the Catholic Church’s social arm Caritas said so far it has provided food supplies to at least 400 extremely poor and hungry people.

Local sources say there are several reasons why crop yields this year have been so poor.

Wild boars destroying fields and bad weather have hit crops badly according to several officials.

Crop prices also hit farmers hard.

“This year most tribals cultivated turmeric and ginger instead of rice and vegetables, to seek more profit. But prices crashed and most of them lost out,” said Sourav Marma, a local NGO official.
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