A joint mission of the UN, EU, UK, and Norway visited the Chittagong Hill Tracts to see first-hand the development initiatives in the area.

A high-level delegation of the United Nations in Bangladesh and key Development Partners has just concluded a visit to the Chittagong Hill Tracts to see first-hand the development initiatives in the area. The week-long visit from November 13 to November 17 covered the Hill Districts of Khagrachari and Rangamati.

The delegation included UN Resident Coordinator Gwyn Lewis, EU Ambassador Charles Whiteley, UK High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson, and Norway Ambassador EspenRikter-Svendsen.

UNDP Resident Representative Stefan Liller, UNFPA Country Representative Kristine Blokhus, FAO Country Representative Robert Simpson, and UNICEF Country Representative Sheldon Yett were also in the delegation.

“Development work in the Chittagong Hill Tracts has been hugely successful; however, lack of access and remoteness of many communities remains an ongoing challenge. The indigenous communities in the CHT have led impressive efforts to preserve and rehabilitate forests and their natural habitat. Climate change has made their work even more vital,” UN RC Gwyn Lewis said.

The RC also said that the visit provided her with a scope to familiarise herself with the region, listen to the concerns of women and adolescents and visit a range of different programs.

“UN and Partners’ support in CHT must be inclusive and in line with Agenda 2030’s promise of leaving no one behind to achieve a concerted, effective, and sustainable development of the Chittagong Hill Tracts,” she added.

EU Ambassador Charles Whiteley said, “The European Union has been a staunch supporter of the UN’s development work in this region.

“We want a peaceful, prosperous future for the people of the Hills while maintaining their dignity and equality and their traditional stewardship of natural resources.”

“This is my third visit to the Hill Tracts. I am always struck by the development challenges in the region and by the opportunities for the government, the UN, development partners, and the communities themselves to work together for a sustainable future. I was particularly impressed by the impact of the Village Common Forests in improving water supplies in remote communities and hope this management of forest resources can be expanded to the benefit of all,” UK envoy Robert Chatterton Dickson said.

“As one of the founding nations of the UN and a major supporter of core support to the UN Agencies, our commitment to peace, equality, and harmony are unquestionable. I wanted to revisit our partnerships in the hills to see just that,” Norway Ambassador EspenRikter-Svendsen said.

The envoy met with Khagrachari and Rangamati Hill District Councils Chairmen and Deputy Commissioners, Mong and Chakma Circle Chiefs, women leaders, environmental NGOs, and the CHT Development Board.

The delegation also listened to diverse community members’ stories, challenges, and recommendations while visiting various UN programs.

One of the many highlights was their visit to the solar power-based safe water supply facilities and the provision of safe drinking water during crises at JurachariUpazila of Rangamati District. The initiative was recently awarded the Local Adaptation Champions Award at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Another was listening to the achievements of women entrepreneurs in the region. Greater involvement of women in the development of CHT will strengthen economic growth and build the resilience of families.

“We are addressing the issue of water scarcity by protecting and restoring forests and by using renewable energy to supply clean water in marginalized communities,” said Stefan Liller, Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh, after visiting the water supply facility.

“The people of the Hills face many challenges, including access to education, healthcare, livelihoods, and water, coupled with increasing impacts of climate change. We have worked extensively in the Hill Tracts since the signing of the Peace Accords, and we will continue to stand by the people here,” he added.

“Children must be at the center of our work in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Investing in children’s well-being today and in their future is not just the right thing to do; it will ultimately benefit all of Bangladesh,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.

UNFPA Representative Kristine Blokhus said, “women in CHT face serious challenges due to remoteness and lack of access to health services. To ensure every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe, as the lead UN agency for reproductive health and rights, UNFPA provides integrated sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence support to the government health system. This includes deploying midwives and other specialist personnel to health facilities and connecting them with local communities.”

FAO Representative in Bangladesh Robert D. Simpson stressed the importance of agriculture in the region and its potential to drive development.  He said: “The majority of people living in CHT depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and food and nutrition security. The region has great potential to develop the production of high-value crops such as coffee, mango, and pineapple, which would raise families’ incomes, but development must be managed well in order to deliver equitable economic growth and protection for the environment.”

The mission ended on November 17 with a promise to further strengthen the work with the government of Bangladesh to achieve prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Chittagong Hill Tracts, leaving no one behind.

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