St Martin’s cut off from mainland, residents suffer from food crisis

Movements of passengers and cargo vessels on the Teknaf and St Martin’s sea route have been closedProthom Alo file photo

The waterway communication between St Martin's Island and Teknaf upazila in Cox's Bazar is yet to be normalised, leaving a total of 10 thousand residents of the island in acute crisis of daily essentials.

Goods had been transported to the only coral island of the country through an alternative route but that too has been cut off since 22 June.

St Martin’s union parishad chairman Mujibur Rahman and service trawler owner’s association’s president Abdur Rashid confirmed the plights the residents of the island are undergoing.

Abdur Rashid told Prothom Alo that two trawlers named SB Nayeem and SB Mayer Doa with supplies on 22 June went to St Martin’s through the alternative route. The supplies included over three hundred gas cylinders, food items and 10-12 passengers. Besides, two speed boats brought 15 passengers including patients from the island to Shah Porir Dwip.

This correspondent talked over phone with about 50 residents of St Martin’s Island including public representatives, businessmen, teachers, trawler owners and general people. They said they are not bothered by the internal conflict in Myanmar, but they suffered immensely as the waterway communication snapped.

All waterway communications between Teknaf and St Martin’s have remained cut-off since 8 June. Earlier on 5 and 8 June, trawlers and speedboats were targeted by gunfire from Myanmar at Naikkhongdia at the Naf River estuary. Although none was injured, the trawler was hit by seven bullets. After the incident, the upazila administration stopped plying of vessels on this route. The authorities then permitted an alternative route through the ‘Golgora’ area Bodormoka in Shah Porir Dwip. However, the St Martin’s service trawler owners association president Abdur Rashid said the owners don’t want to use this route considering this as risky.

Studies hampered in two schools

The island has two educational institutes—one is a government primary school and the other is St Martin’s BN Islamic School and College.

The primary school has a total of 205 students. Although there are seven posts of teachers and staff in this school, it currently has three teachers and a staff. The number of students in BN Islamic School and College is over 300 and teachers-staff is 13.

As the two schools were closed for Eid and summer vacation on 13 June, most of the teachers left the island. But the teachers cannot now return to the schools as the communication is snapped.

St Martin’s union parishad’s panel chairman Aktar Kamal said, “The people of the island are suffering. We are just living on by sustenance. Yet, we could have got some solace had our children got the opportunity to study. But their studies are being hampered due to shortage of teachers.”

Shortage of essentials

Due to closure of the alternative routes too, the residents of the island are suffering from shortage of essential commodities.

The main market of the island is near Jetty ghat with several hundred shops and restaurants. It was learnt that most of the shops do not have stock of daily necessities. A few shops have some essential commodities, but they are being sold at high prices. No eggs were found yesterday in some shops on the north and south sides of the market. But a week ago, one egg was sold for Tk 25. One kg of potato was sold at Tk 110 and per kg onion was sold at Tk 150.

Md Hossain, a grocery shop owner, said supplies are not arriving from Teknaf due to closure of waterways. He bought edible oil, onion, garlic, ginger, eggs and rice on 22 June and stored them in the warehouse. Seeing people suffering, he is now selling the stocked goods.

He said people of the island starve to death if this situation continues.
St Martin’s union parishad’s chairman Mujibur Rahman said transportation of supplies is being hampered due to closure of water communication with the island.

“The local administration has to strengthen the patrolling of the Coast Guard and BGB in Badarmokam area of ​​Naf river to normalise the movement of boats. At the same time, it is necessary to dredge the Badarmokam area due to the rise  of shoals.”

Teknaf upazila nirbahi officer Md Adnan Chowdhury said trawlers were allowed to go to St Martin’s through the Teknaf coast of the Bay of Bengal instead of the Naf river to resolve the food crisis. But the trawlers are not using the route due to rough seas.

He added that the effort is on to solve the crisis.