DHAKA: “Life in the hills is very tough. We need to work hard to maintain the livelihood here since challenges are there in every step, like agriculture, health, education etc,” says Nelson Mro, 27, an indigenous inhabitant of Bandarban district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
Mro is one of more than a million people living in the CHT, in the southern part of Bangladesh. The area is home to 11 tribes that have lived for generations in these mountains. Some of the popular tribal communities of the CHT are Chakma, Tripura, Marma, Mro, and Bom.
“In my childhood, I did not get any proper facility to learn or go to school. There were not even adequate health facilities available in the villages but things have changed a lot over the recent years,” Mro said while working at his coffee shop in the Faruk Para area of Bandarban district.
Now in every community there are primary schools and government-run clinics to address mother and child health care, he said.
Professor Dr. Mesbah Kamal, a member of the Indigenous Parliamentary Caucus and a CHT expert, said: “Our government is keen to develop the life of the hill people. Since 2017, we have introduced education to promote indigenous mother tongues in primary schools to protect the languages of the 3 tribes of CHT.”
He added: “We still have a long way to go since another eight tribal languages need to be introduced at primary education level.”
He warned that the environment has become a growing concern in CHT because of the massive deforestation that has taken place in the recent years.
“We have noticed that many of the waterfalls have gone dry recently due to indiscriminate stone mining from the hills. These waterfalls are a major source of drinking water for the tribal community and we need to work immediately to restore this natural water source,” said Kamal.
In this context, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have teamed up with new fund to promote sustainable management of community development in CHT, which will ease the hardships of the tribal people living in these areas.
According to the arrangement signed on Tuesday, the ADB will provide $471,000 to UNDP to implement technical assistance project entitled “Sustainable Management of Community Development for Chittagong Hill Tracts.”
UNDP Bangladesh Country Director, Sudipto Mukerjee, said: “Currently, we are working on livelihood, natural resource management, bio-diversity conservation and community cohesion among the tribal people. With the support of this new fund, both tribal and non-tribal communities will have access to more inclusive economic and livelihood opportunities and have improved capabilities to manage the environment.”
At the moment, the UNDP is working in CHT in collaboration with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs under the program titled “Strengthening Inclusive Development in Chittagong Hill Tracts,” which will be continued until December 2021.
“Our program in CHT aims at increased civic participation and engagement among communities, which will provide the basis to build social capital and citizenship awareness in the population and deepen participation in decision-making,” added Mukerjee.
He mentions that the increased ability of institutions to respond to local priorities in the delivery of services, in justice and security sectors, and on land issues to provide accountability and legitimacy, will “further strengthen links, between public services and the local populace.”