The Financial Express

Beating the Bangladesh blues

Beating the Bangladesh blues

Over two decades ago, a European was innocently trying to ensure that the information about many Bangladeshis live on tree branches is just an atrocious lie. She was talking to a Bangladeshi visiting her country. The nonplussed tourist reacted to the curiosity in utter incredulity and disgust. On being pressed repeatedly, the apparently innocent lady admitted that she had heard about the information from some globe-trotting tourists. It's true this swampy lower riparian country once remained under flood water for a long stretch of time almost annually. But they were not that doomed to become compelled to climb trees and take shelter there to save themselves from floods. Floods ravaging the country almost every year prompted these hearsays. In the 1970s and 80s, Bangladesh was affected by a number of devastating floods. This has evoked lots of pitiful sympathy from the developed world for the country being battered by series of cyclones and deluges.

Those miserable days are over. Floods still do occur in the country. But they remain confined to certain low-lying regions in northern and central Bangladesh. The country, however, could not be fully free from the assaults of cyclones. Warnings from Met offices continue to ask coastal areas to hoist danger signals almost round the war. People have become used to it. The spectre of annual countrywide floods has long gone. The disastrous cyclones are becoming infrequent. When it comes to natural disasters, Bangladesh has emerged as a land without remaining haunted by the feared strikes of calamities --- natural disasters --- unlike many European nations, North America and Asian countries like China and Japan.

To the great woes of the country, when it was coming free of its many past adversities, the corona pandemic struck it. It was time when the nation could boast of its food self-sufficiency, all-round infrastructural development, increase in export earnings, poverty alleviation and rise in literacy. The spread of the Covid-19 outbreak began in full scale one and half years ago. During this time, the outbreak's intensity increased to eventually be declared as a pandemic. Bangladesh became a part of the scourge. Thanks to its small size, the ravages of the pandemic remained under control. In the large countries like the United States, Brazil, India and the mid-size France, Italy and Great Britain, the pandemic's progress showed an uneven trend. As for instance the US had witnessed peaks of the outbreak in some its states, while some other states showed declining trends. In the latter states amid relaxed restrictions parks, beaches and eateries reopened.

Meanwhile, the vaccination campaigns began among a large segment in the USA; as a result the mandatory wearing of corona-preventive masks began fizzling out. At one phase, the corona-time virtual schools started returning to their traditional versions. The European nations were not that fortunate. A few countries after being declared free of the corona virus had to experience relapses in a couple of months. The people were once again made to abide by the basic preventive rules like respecting the lockdowns and social distance protocol.

The European countriesincluding  France, Italy and UK at one time became bewildered as they passed through these phases. The case of India remained smooth as it earned the capability to invent its own vaccines and begin a countrywide inoculation programme. Thanks to India's large population, and a porous border, neighbouring Bangladesh became hard put to it to effectively cope with its pandemic outbreak. The country is all set to launch its own inoculation programme.

After the beginning of the vaccination campaign in Bangladesh with the Indian doses given to it as a goodwill gesture, the supply was cut off all of a sudden. Currently, Bangladesh is set to receive vaccines from at least five different companies located in 5 countries. The three dominant of them are in China, the USA and Japan. The country aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the population in one-and-half to two years.

The special mass vaccination programme in the country, in the rural areas in particular, begins from August 7. Coverage of 80 per cent is a highly ambitious target, and challenging too. The country has started working out urgent plans to mobilise funds and manpower required for the task.

Widespread loss of income sources continues to hit people in both urban and rural areas. It is emerging nakedly among the segments comprising day labourers, small traders and petty job holders. The nation has been facing the new normal reality ever since the corona outbreak took a grave turn. Loss of income has led thousands of people to leave the cities and start life afresh in the rural areas. Preventing social marginalisation has lately emerged as a major challenge for the government. Only flawless distribution of the emergency stimulus packages can make life tolerably bearable for people in the lower strata of society.

Like in many developing countries, the education sector in Bangladesh has been in total disarray since mid-March in 2020. The long pandemic-induced closures have created a total stalemate in the Bangladesh education sector. The worst affected include the students at school and college. The psychological impact of university closures on students is widely feared to create grounds for either spells of social tension or deep-seated angst.  All this might take years to enable the Bangladesh society to return to a semblance of normalcy, the imperative being dynamism in the national economy.


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