Friday, July 4, 2014

Bangladesh- Suffering the FIFA World Cup fever

With World Cup fever raging around the globe, Asif Reza Akash, 22, a Correspondent from Dhaka in Bangladesh, describes the extraordinary commitment of fans in what is otherwise a cricket-playing nation. Bangladesh, a cricket playing country that organized the last T20 World Cup and the inaugural ceremony of the last Cricket World Cup, is now totally gripped by the football fever.

Yet it is nothing new for Bangladesh. Every FIFA World Cup (WC) makes Bangladeshi people conspicuously crazy for football. Celebration of the biggest football fiesta has shaken almost every country and major cities around the world, but Bangladesh and specifically its capital city, Dhaka, is way different from other cities. A highly populated city is now a city of football jerseys, flags and colour. Most people from all walks of life are fans of either Argentina or Brazil. If neither of those, then Netherlands, Germany or Spain could be the answer but still they are the trifling minority.

Random people in the streets are wearing the jerseys of the nation they support. College students attend classes wearing jerseys or T-shirts. Private cars have mini flags of Argentina or Brazil on a pole in front of the bonnet, which makes it look like Bangladesh is now full of Brazilian or Argentinian ambassadors. Some crazy landlords or owners of five and six storey residential buildings have painted their houses with the colour of Brazilian or Argentinian flags. Almost every rooftop flies the  flags of different nations playing FIFA WC 2014.

Since Bangladesh is a ready-made garments exporter, locally made jerseys and T-shirts are really cheap here. A piece of information readers might find interesting is that the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ tag is attached to the jerseys of Brazilian supporters sitting in the stadiums and enjoying the matches live, because those jerseys were manufactured and exported from Bangladesh. A group of about 50 thousand Bangladeshis is supporting the Honduras team, and that fact went viral all over the news and social media in Honduras. The Honduras team then made a public announcement through their official website that they would dedicate their first WC goal to the fans in Bangladesh. Reportedly, Bangladesh received at least $500 million worth of garment orders to make different teams’ jerseys for fans.

Facebook as well as media in Bangladesh are also very active with FIFA WC trends. Bangladesh watches the matches at 10 PM, 1 AM and 4 AM. So people put Facebook statuses and predict the score line, then analyse the games in the morning. They brag about their favourite team and defend it when it underperforms. Everywhere the discussions are about football. Who played well, who should have been substituted or how the formation could have been are some common topics among friends or passengers in a bus or train.

On university campuses or in public places, several companies arrange the projector and show the matches on giant screens at night, to help people enjoy the World Cup in a crowd atmosphere. However, this serves also as their marketing or branding policy. Once I heard a professor in my university say in humour that all Bangladeshi people know at least three foreign nationals – U.S. president Bush, ex-Al Qaeda boss Osama Bin Laden, and footballer Maradona.

People here wait for FIFA World Cup and when the extravaganza comes after four years they just let it flow with its craziness. Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney are some very common names in Bangladesh among the football-loving people. Even the slum dwellers who cannot afford a TV know them. Though Bangladesh is a football-loving country it has never played in higher levels outside of south Asia. I hope this fiesta will sow an interest among the young generation, and they will take Bangladesh to the FIFA World Cup some day. Hail the FIFA WC 2014, hail Bangladeshi fans!

This article was published in a youth blog under commonwealth on Feb 12, 2014
Link: Click Here

Political unrest poses dire risk to country's economy

Bangladesh faces serious economic consequences from ongoing political unrest, writes Asif Reza Akash, 22, a Correspondent from Dhaka in Bangladesh, who says strikes are taking a toll in rising prices and lost income.

Bangladesh has passed its tenth national parliamentary election under an amended constitution. The previous opposition and major political party BNP and its alliance boycotted the election and put the country under continuous strikes from the early part of October 2013. The economy suffered from this political turmoil, without any doubt. Bangladesh was stagnant for two or three months and surely lagged behind countries such as India, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar in terms of trade, commerce and export.

Garments and textiles, Bangladesh’s biggest sector, has virtually been ruled out of competition as a global exporter country for those turbulent months. Food security has been threatened. Production and investment is clearly facing a downward move. The flow of remittance has declined and watchdog organizations like the World Bank and IMF have expressed their deep concern. In the fiscal year 2013-14, the GDP was anticipated to grow 7.2 per cent, but current World Bank estimates are just 5.7 per cent. Individual-level investment has reportedly been reduced by one to two per cent. Manpower export has receded, which could have a negative impact on remittance inflow.

The textile sector already suffered an image crisis with the Tazreen fire and the RanaPlaza collapse, but the political unrest has destroyed the resilience of this sector. Many import orders from European delegates have been placed in India, Vietnam and other countries instead of Bangladesh. Coming up in June there will be a review of the garment sector by the European Union and if Bangladesh loses, it will be fatal for the textile sector. Though Bangladesh is second in garments export it can lose its position at any time if further actions are not taken. Bangladesh’s Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president claimed that the sector incurred a loss of over Tk. 2,000 crore in the street violence of October and November, while orders worth $2.40 million were cancelled from December 1 to 9.

The banking sector is at a halt now. Newspaper reports show that 28,000 crore taka is deposited idle in bank vaults. Loan supplies, repayment, and banking services have been facing a standstill. Even the world recession of 2008 didn’t affect the banking industry as much as the on-going political unrest did. China’s industry offered to invest ten billion USD in Bangladesh, but later postponed on the grounds of political instability. An important Memorandum of Understanding (MoE) was about to be signed between the UAE and Bangladesh on November 03 but was postponed later for the same reason (Dr. Mijanur Rahman Shelly, 03/12/2013, Bonik Barta).

The worldwide inflationary trend showcases a downfall recently as international food prices have fallen, but here in Bangladesh food prices have increased because of the nationwide blockade. Food carriers have been attacked in many places, which reduces the supply of food in urban areas. As a result prices go up. The transportation charge has increased at least threefold as driving during the strikes involves a high level of risk. In many parts of the country, especially north Bengal, farmers became unable to transport foods and grains to the cities and were deprived of their rightful price. This is how political unrest is forcing city dwellers to buy food at a higher price and keeping the farmers from realizing proper income.The transportation business has suffered greatly. Almost every day, there have been attacks and torchings of cars and buses. From highway to streets there was and still is a continuous tension. A report in BSS (Bangladesh Songbad Songstha) states that “unruly protesters damaged over 350 motor vehicles and torched 325 others at different places of the country during the period from November 25 to December 11”. The same report says “310 violent and sabotage attacks were posed on railway coaches causing a loss of Tk. 10 crore during the period from October 10 to December 9, 2013”.

It is imperative to mention here that, although Bangladesh is advancing and the per capita GDP has risen, a great number of people still live hand to mouth. The rickshaw pullers, CNG drivers, hawkers and many classes of people depend on a meagre daily income. The continuous strike and nationwide blockade has forced them into deprivation. According to Atiqul Islam, President of BGMEA, about five million people working in the RMG sector suffer a loss of Tk. 250 crore on each day of the blockade.

The economy has faced a disaster in this turmoil. Though academically politics and economics are different majors, we must see them as an intertwining subject. The economy cannot go a single step further without proper politics. We cannot afford an economic setback at this juncture, as Bangladesh wants to be a middle income country within the least possible time. The sooner the politicians admit this fact the better it is for the country’s people. 
This article was published in a youth blog under commonwealth on Feb 12, 2014

Link: Click Here

New Power Plant Threatens Agriculture and Food Security in Bangladesh

The government of Bangladesh is advancing plans to install a coal-based thermal power plant in the area of Rampal in the Bagerhaat district. This project is only 10 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, an environmentally critical area, and threatens its very existence.
The Rampal power plant will have hazardous impacts on agriculture and food security, diversity of plants and wildlife, fisheries, the life of local inhabitants, and the area’s topography. The power plant will generate 1,320 megawatts of electricity and will occupy 1,834 acres of land, which is mostly agricultural and shrimp aquaculture ponds.
The distance of the plant from the Sundarbans cannot be considered safe. Its impact on agriculture and food security is so fatal that we cannot sustain and support the project. Unfortunately, the government is going ahead by ignoring public protest.
Though an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was published in January 2013, its methodology, findings, and recommendations have been highly criticized and even revoked by many specialists because of its deficiencies in estimations and disclosures of truth, as well as for its ambiguity.
The EIA report by the Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services took an area of 10 kilometer radius from the stack location of the proposed plant and showed 75.4 percent (26,344 hectares) is Net Cultivable Area (NCA) in their study scope of 34,955 hectares. It suggests that only 706 hectares of NCA will be compromised by the project site, but it actually has a lethal and circular impact on agriculture.
Once the plant is in operation, it needs huge amounts of coal supplies and the materials used in it will emit hazardous chemicals such as sulfur, carbon dioxide, cadmium, radium, arsenic, lead, mercury and nickel. Reportedly, 220 tons of different toxic gases will be discharged daily from the plant unless they are treated appropriately before emission.
These gases will be spread out by wind and affect the people, trees, soil and livestock. The soil texture (sand, silt and clay) will be damaged by the discharged toxic chemicals, and it will extensively decrease land fertility and production over time.
Interestingly, within 743 hectares of land of the proposed plant, 706 hectares (95 percent) is agricultural land. The EIA report says that 459 of the 706 hectares is a damage-free area, and the lost production is only 467 tons of crops, but that is simply an underestimation of the consequences.
The EIA report also shows annual production loss of paddy is about 9,455 metric tons (project area 467 tons and study area 8,988 tons).
The air, odor and sound pollution will affect local inhabitants and cattle so badly that it will be hardly possible for people to live and cultivate outside of the study area. The study area now produces 62,353 metric tons of rice and 140,461 metric tons of other crops annually.
The EIA report also estimates that the livestock and poultry population per household in the study area comprises three cattle, two buffaloes, four goats, one sheep, five ducks and six chickens.
The power plant will reduce the livestock grazing area, and the wastes from coal such as fly ashes and bottom ashes will contaminate air and water. This will make the livestock vulnerable to diseases and will affect the income level of households and farms simultaneously.
The most deadly impact will be on fisheries. The fishery resources of the project area are enriched with around 120 aquatic fauna, including hilsha, taposhi, bhetki, parsheand, rita, faisha and tulardandi, to name a few from the long list.
The Passur River is a source of larvae for the shrimp and the confluence of rivers provide some unique places for the propagation of fish.
The aquatic species are already facing extinction due to a number of different factors, such as the hindrance of fish migratory routes, changes to the geomorphological processes of  rivers, rapid siltation of  fish habitats, squeezing of spawning and feeding grounds, and the expansion of culture fisheries.
If the coal power plant is installed, it will accelerate the extinction process of the fisheries. The plant will require 9,150 cubic meters of water per hour from the Passur River for its operation. The discharged water will be toxic and have a destructive effect on the fisheries.
The oil and chemical wastes from coal-carrying vessels will contaminate the water. The Passur River will be the first victim of the power plant, followed by the Passur-Chunkuri confluence, Maidara, and Tidal Khal.
Mangrove-supported habitat will also suffer, and shrimp farms and homestead fish ponds will be no exception.
Whatever report the government published to get the environmental clearance is totally a whitewash. The benefits of this project can never outweigh the consequences.
This initiative must be stopped at any cost. This project will not only hamper Bangladesh in food and agriculture, but also make it vulnerable to natural disasters and calamities that we can barely imagine.
This article was published in 'Food Safety News' magazine from Seattle, USA on Oct 22, 2013
Link: Click Here