Unabated stone lifting on the upstream is reportedly causing the hill creeks to dry out
Once upon a time water from springs used to flow through several hundred jhiris (a creek narrow stream) in Bandarban all the year round, but most of the natural sources of water are dried up now.
Water can be found there only during the rainy season. Rest of the time, people of the remote hilly areas have to face water crisis.
The crisis turns acute during dry season in many areas of Ruma, Thanchi, Lama, Rowangchhari, Ali Kadam and Naikhangchhari upazilas of the district.
"A jhiri that flows beside our para is the only source of water for 56 families living here. We use this jhiri for washing clothes, bathing and collecting drinking water.
"We have to dig holes in the jhiri for collecting drinking water. It takes time to collect drinking water from the holes," said Hlameynu Marma, a resident of Gherao Para in Rowangchhari upazila.
During a recent visit to Rowangchhari, The Business Standard found people of the area were gathering near the jhiri during the afternoon. Some of them were bathing with the water of the jhiri while some other were digging holes.
The water in the jhiri is muddy. People therefore dig holes for collecting drinking water, as the water that accumulates in the holes is comparatively cleaner.
Numethui Marma, another resident of the area, said earlier there was no scarcity of water in the jhiri during dry season.
The jhiri has been dried up due to stone lifting on its upstream for several years, he observed.
Sixty-year-old Chaw U Prue Marma of the area said, "All through our lives we drank the water of the jhiri. There was never any waste or garbage in the jhiri."
Meanwhile, around 60 families live in Boroshila Para that is two kilometres away from Gherao Para.
As the locality is adjacent to the Shankha River, people living there do not have to face water crisis for doing household chores like washing clothes, bathing and cooking.
However, they are also facing a crisis of drinking water.
U Ching Thowai Marma of the area said, "The educated and conscious people of the area drink the river water after boiling it. But most of the people do not boil the water, which is why they often suffer from different water-borne diseases."
Another local, Yoimey U Marma said the dead body of a dog was floating in the river in the morning. "So I had to wait for a long time to collect water from the river.
"Besides, the water near the river's ghat (jetty) becomes muddy when boats pass by," he added.
Local people claimed the water of the river remains muddy even in the monsoon. There is no source of clean water in these localities.
"We tried to install some deep tube-wells here. But the pipes could not reach the groundwater level due to the rocky soil of the area," said Meyching Aong Marma, Rowangchhari Upazila Sadar Union Parishad member and a resident of Gherao Para.
However, he thinks that the water crisis can be removed to some extent if water can be supplied to the areas through Gravity Floor System (Purifying water in Jhiri by building dam there).
Prattush Pal Tripura, resident medical officer at Bandarban Sadar Hospital, said the major risk involved with drinking contaminated water is the spread of diarrhoea.
Besides, people could be affected with different other water-borne diseases like typhoid and dysentery, he said.
"The outbreak of the diseases occurs towards the beginning of monsoon. During that period wastes are carried into the jhiris by rainwater," he explained.
Mahabubul Islam, chief scientific officer at Bandarban Soil and Water Conservation Centre, said, "Usually groundwater level drops during dry season. Besides, the natural sources of water are dying due to indiscriminate felling of trees on hills and lifting of stones. If all the jhiris dry up, hill people will face acute water crisis."
Zuamlian Amlai, president of the Bandarban unit of Movement for the Protection of Forest and Land Rights in the Chattogram Hill Tracts, echoing the same said, "It is feared that more than three hundred springs and jhiris have died so far due to illegal stone lifting and indiscriminate tree felling in forests. The number of dead jhiris will increase day by day."
Sohrab Hossain, executive engineer of Bandarban Public Health Engineering Department, said, "Around 30 percent of Bandarban's soil is rocky. So ring-well or deep tube-well cannot be installed wherever we want."
The water crisis can be solved by supplying water using any different technology, he concluded.