Returning families in Bandarban face severe food crisis amidst post-conflict challenges

BANDARBAN CORRESPONDENT

Communities in Bandarban are grappling with a severe food crisis following their return after months of displacement due to the terror inflicted by the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). Residents, who had fled their homes in April amidst gunfire and violence, are now facing the stark reality of food scarcity as they return to their villages.

The conflict, which forced families from diverse communities such as Marma, Tanchangya, Khiyang, Khumi, Mro, and Bawm to seek refuge in jungles, Jum houses, or with relatives, has left their agricultural practices in disarray. Only 10 out of 87 families were able to cultivate Jum (traditional shifting cultivation), a mainstay of their subsistence.

In the 341 Paikshyong Mouza of Rowangchhari Sadar Union, consisting of 12 villages, Khamtang Para and Paikshyong Para have been the most affected. Here, returning families are met with the devastation of their homes and the harsh reality of food shortages. “We see houses broken, everything destroyed. But the main problem is food,” state Kaibari Pitah Bawm and Parkel Bawm, local residents.

Efforts to negotiate peace have been underway since November 5, when the first phase of talks between KNF and the Peace Establishment Committee commenced. These discussions led to a signed agreement on four key demands, signaling a move towards normalcy. The army has assisted in the safe return of communities, but the challenge of rebuilding lives remains daunting.

The headmen of the Mouza report a gradual return of families, but the food crisis is a growing concern. Lal Jar Lam Bawm, president of the Bawm Social Council, acknowledges the severity of the situation and expresses hope for support from the Bandarban Hill District Council. Chohaimong Marma, chairman of Rowangchhari Upazila, and Abul Monsur, UNO of Thanchi Upazila, also confirm their commitment to addressing the crisis, with Monsur stating, “the administration will provide assistance.”

This humanitarian crisis comes in the wake of the KNF’s activities in Bandarban since last October, which have led to the loss of 15 lives, including army personnel, and the arrest of 17 KNF members. As the region steps into a post-conflict phase, the immediate focus is on mitigating the food crisis and aiding the hundreds of families struggling to rebuild their lives.

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