Bangladesh - aftermath of a cyclone

The cyclone

In recent days there have been demonstrations across those coastal areas of Bangladesh worst-hit by the 'Sidr' cyclone of 15 November.

For example; in Barguna on Sunday hundreds marched from a remote outlying village to demand food and clothing. Demonstrators were roughly handled by police and a delegation of twelve villagers were arrested and charged with "creating a chaos by gathering villagers".

Relief deliveries of rice and other staples has been patchy and slow in many places. Political favouritism/nepotism is rife; the demonstrators have been protesting the political manipulation of the relief delivery; local government officials have been using selective distribution as a means to buy and reward political favours. Political allies get preferential treatment, while those who have opposition allegiances are missing out. (This is only a smaller scale version of how 'aid' is used as a bargaining factor in global politics by the IMF, WTO etc.) Dead victims of the cyclone are allegedly being listed by some councillors as in need, so increasing their region's share of aid. Police have also arrested two local officials for theft of food relief.

Contrast this official greed with the solidarity shown by the working class inhabitants of Dhaka's Karali slum area, one of the most impoverished places in the world. They have donated a truckload of clothing to the cyclone victims.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr killed more than 3,200 people, left tens of thousands homeless and destroyed crops that could have produced nearly 1 million tons of rice. An estimated 2.2 million affected people are expected to be dependent on relief supplies for several months.

The number of deaths and injuries cannot accurately portray the devastation. Properties, houses, plants and crops -- almost all the worldly possessions of the residents -- were destroyed. Food from their homes, fish from their freshwater ponds, cows, buffalos, goats, ducks and chicken were all wiped away by the tidal surge.

Fishermen lost their nets and boats. Where there was no high tide, the water, contaminated by fallen leaves and other debris, has become unusable and pond fish are dying. The environment of the affected areas is totally polluted. The victims are hungry and thirsty. Many are living under the open sky. They do not even have seeds to plant.

The desperate immediate need for food and shelter is hampering the reconstruction of roads and other infrastructure. Officials report difficulties in recruiting sufficient labour for these jobs. Many crops have been destroyed and the labour shortage is affecting the ability to harvest what remains.

But local landowners and officials claim that workers prefer to use their time hunting down relief supplies than to take up available harvest and reconstruction jobs. If this is true, it is probably a rational choice based on the pitifully low wages on offer. It is also likely that even if a worker can earn a wage, at present in many areas there is little or nothing to buy with it to sustain one's self and dependents.

Muhammad Yakub Hossain, a farmer at Char Montaz, said providing relief for all for an unlimited period may make people idle. ‘I am desperately looking for day labourers to harvest paddy from the fields…. But I cannot find them as they have been running after relief for the past 10 days.’ He said, ‘Relief would make people idle.’

Some state officials (who presumably won't be expected to dig roads or paddy fields or to go hungry) are advocating a tougher approach to reimpose wage labour and normal class relations, and state the need to re-establish the necessary 'morality';

The Bamna union council chairman in Barguna, Abdul Khaleq, on Sunday said, ‘Providing emergency relief for the victims for a certain period is a must as the tide swept away everything of many of them…. The government provided adequate food for the victims…. Now it is necessary to start food for works.’
He said everyone was asking for a slip to get relief. ‘But getting labourers to reconstruct damaged roads and embankments has become difficult,’ he said, adding it was also necessary to repair most of the infrastructures before the next monsoon.
Mohammad Saidur Rahman, the outgoing upazila nirbahi officer of Bamna, said general relief activities should not be continued for more than two months.
‘Two months should be enough for the victims to get back their moral strength to get to work,’ he said on Sunday. ‘But the vulnerable groups of people such as the aged, widows, children and the families having no member to earn living may get relief for a longer period.’

But another official admits that the labour shortage is partly caused by the fact that in the worst-hit areas simply securing survival is a full-time job;

KM Abdul Wadud, the upazila nirbahi officer of Mirzaganj in Patuakhali, said dependence on relief was increasing day by day. ‘It would be difficult to get worker for day-to-day activities.’
‘Our representatives went door-to-door to provide “token” in the past week so that the victims get money… But in many cases, they could not hand over the token to the victims as they were running here and there to collect relief from every possible source.’

At the other end of the social hierarchy;
... a sudden crash in share values led to angry investors demonstrating and fighting police outside the Dhaka Stock Exchange on Monday. Five hundred investors threw bricks at officers, who responded with baton charges. After half an hour, with injuries to protesters and police, the trouble subsided when the market regulator agreed to once again allow resumption of brokerage lending to investors for purchasing shares.

On November 19, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had imposed a ban on lending to investors by both brokerage houses and merchant banks for purposes of investing in stocks. Earlier, on November 22, a group of investors had staged demonstrations in front of the DSE building protesting the restrictions imposed on margin loan facilities by the stock market regulator. The investors think such restrictions led to a continuous slump on the market.

Posted By

Red Marriott
Dec 4 2007 17:32


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