Reopening of tourism in CHT in the midst of Covid-19 crisis
History is violent, and the past is equally vicious for the indigenous people in the whole world. There is hardly one indigenous community that was not eventually “conquered” by the so-called “civilized” people.
The indigenous people feel the burden to become “civilized” just like their colonizers, which forcefully expose them to different ideas, culture or situations.
Those are the main reason of why the indigenous people are so much marginalized.
The year is 2020 and we have a pandemic named Covid-19 roaming the globe. According to some experts, it is nothing but a mild flue and some experts said that it is nothing but a hoax.
Current scientific evidence points out that Covid-19 spreads through saliva, respiratory droplets and respiratory secretions.
It is a highly infectious virus and its vaccine is yet to be developed.
We could only be safe from this disease by following social distancing, maintaining hygiene, proper nutrition and overall awareness.
The situation is getting worse. Till today (July 30th) more than 17.5 million people are infected and it took the lives of nearly 670,000 people.
Each day thousands of people are getting this disease and countries are trying their best to counter this by imposing strict lockdowns.
Scientists are trying to develop a vaccine as soon as possible. Now all we can rely on are testing people, tracing the infected and isolating them with proper health care.
According to many, indigenous people all over the world are much more vulnerable to Covid-19. On July 20, the Director General of World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusof said in a virtual meeting,
“Indigenous peoples often have a high burden of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and both communicable and non-communicable diseases, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its severe outcomes.”
The indigenous people live outside of the mainstream. They are mostly poor. Many of their children are malnourished.
Their residences do not have proper sanitation facilities. These people have no adequate health care nor social awareness.
These factors are putting them in imminent danger of Covid-19 infections.
In addition, another article points out how a global pandemic reminds the Native Americans on their traumatic past.
The earth is home to 220 to 350 million indigenous people. About 4 millions of them reside in Bangladesh and about 1 million to 1.5 million are from the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT). The 13 of the total 54 indigenous communities of Bangladesh live in CHT.
The three hill districts- Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban have joined among the Covid-19 infected districts of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh identified its first Covid-19 patients on 8th March, 2020. Three Covid-19 infected patients were confirmed on that day. Since then infection continues to spread.
It was just a matter of time that covid-19 reached every district of this dense populated country.
Just like many countries around the world, the government of Bangladesh imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the infection rate of Covid-19. Still the country has seen more than 230,000 Covid-19 cases and about 3000 deaths due to this.
The infection rate does not seem to flatten even at this time. The three hill districts of Chittagong Division are no exception.
Each day in those three districts, the number of patients are growing. There are only a few hospitals and clinics in those three districts and most of them are not well equipped to treat Covid-19 patients.
The government officials, volunteers, health workers alongside doctors are trying their very best to contain the infection and treat the patients using their small resources.
Almost half of the infected patients recovered from Covid-19. Nevertheless, it seems that we have a long way to go.
For now, movement is limited in the three hill districts. Transportation from other districts are also strictly controlled.
Also as part of nationwide lockdown, the tourist spots in Chittagong Hill Tracts are closed from 18th March till now. However, pressure is mounting up to re-open them.
At this moment, many people are eyeing the upcoming government holidays during Eid-Ul-Adha and afterwards.
Those occasional holidays had always seen a large number of tourists coming to CHT from all parts of Bangladesh.
However, the Bandarban district administration will not be considering to re-open the tourist spots on that district yet. Reported by Prothom Alo on their 23rd July edition.
The decision will be given after Eid. The Khagrachari disctrict administration is also keeping the tourist spots closed.
They too, would like to decide whether to open them or not after the Eid vacation.
But in case of Rangamati, some hotels and motels got opened. Some tourist management groups are desperately posting advertisements and trying to manage some tourists. They are focusing on the Rangamati town rather than the outer areas.
There is a chance that all the spots would be re-opened after Eid.
Here, let us try to fathom, what would actually happen, if those sports were re-opened in the midst of a nationwide pandemic.
Actually, we do not need to go decades earlier or in another continent.
In the month of April, an outbreak of measles took the lives of 10 indigenous jumma children and infected about 200 people in Sajek Union of Rangamati.
We came to know about it on social media. But it was somewhat a bit late.
The write up by Nabangshu Chakma provides us with insights on that outbreak.
At first, the outbreak was termed as an “unknown disease”. Later it was found that it was a measles outbreak and those children were not properly vaccinated. There was not and still there iis no health care facilities nearby. 
There are also multiple reports of mass hysteria in the rural areas of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The overall lack of awareness among the people is very much visible.
Added with inadequate health care and negligence; disease and rumors are very common to these marginalized indigenous people.
In the hills, there are always scarcity of water, sometimes food crisis occurs. These incidents were seen well before the pandemic.
Once the natural resources were enough for the livelihood of the indigenous hill people. Fishing, husbandry, jum cultivation etc provided the necessities for them. Nowadays those are merely not enough.
Covid-19 crisis already took a huge toll on these poor indigenous people. Many have lost their jobs. Those who rely on cultivation are facing transportation problems; weekly haats (markets) are
As of right now, there is no testing facilities for Covid-19 in the three hill districts. An RT-PCR lab is being built in Rangamati. It is not operational yet.
The hill districts have to rely on other districts medical and lab facilities for testing purposes. As a result, tests become so much limited and time consuming.
CHT cannot combat the covid-19 when there is no proper hospitals, testing facilities and also trained and dedicated health worker. As we saw earlier, those were not even enough to combat measles outbreak.
Right now, CHT is on a standoff with a mythical foe. Much like David and Goliath, but an alternate ending where David gets beat up by Goliath and loses.
History shows that the indigenous people had always been devastated by the diseases carried by the people from the outside.
The Europeans brought small pox, bubonic plague, cholera, chicken pox, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid and different types of sexually transmitted diseases to the New World aka America.
Those diseases were new to the Native Americans. Having developed no immunities like the Europeans, natives went into direct contact with the European colonists and caught the diseases.
The settlers also knowingly spread diseases; some settlers deliberately sent blankets to the Natives that were exposed to small pox.
However, those tactics were vastly used in medieval wars. In Europe and Asia, the attacking armies would seize cities or castles and use catapults to throw the bodies infected by diseases inside the seized areas.
Also during the 2nd world war there was a mad Japanese scientist who tried to develop plague bombs and was ready to unleash it against the enemies of the Imperial Japan.
It is still unclear and a debated topic if he had read too many Bond novels. But we can understand that diseases were always some kind of weapons. People, knowingly or unknowingly served as the carriers and wreaked havoc.
If the tourist spots get re-opened (by popular demand or for the sake of economy duh), there will surely be a big surge of infections. People all over the country will flock to these areas. Many tourist spots are situated in rural areas. The movements of tourists will only help to spread the Covid-19 infections further.
In tourist spots, residences, shops and small markets it is impossible to take proper safety measures. Here locals get in direct contacts with the tourists. We have already seen that social distancing never works in mass gatherings of people.
It is true that livelihoods of thousands of people depend on tourism. This is a huge industry. Closed tourist spots mean gigantic economic losses. But I would like to point out that, during a worldwide pandemic, no other tourist areas are as vulnerable as the ones in Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The dilemma between lives and economy should not even exist in the first place. We must not do anything that threatens the life of another human being.
The government and the authorities hold the keys to this solution. Maybe we can trust them with that.
If not, then it will be up to the tourists. Can’t they postpone their tours until the world heals? And maybe they can provide support for the local indigenous people.
We have always heard how the tourists like the indigenous people; they are in love with nature, forests, hills; some of the tourists even want to live the rest of their lives in a small cottage over a small hill.
How sweet. Maybe now is the time to prove that love and devotion.
It is to be noted that the indigenous people were always vocal about their rights and have always laid down demands especially regarding the tourism issue. However, most of them were neglected before.
The decision to re-open tourist spots might backfire and cause so much misery. So all we can hope for is a well thought decision, and a smart choice by all the parties taking part.
Please, do not let history to point its fingers at you.
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