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1 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Year-End Supplement

Random thoughts on 2017

Syed Mehdi Momin
Random thoughts on 2017

2017 like the previous years had its fair share of tumultuous events and domestic and regional instability. However the political scenario was relatively stable. On the foreign policy arena Bangladesh’s relations with most countries continued to be friendly albeit minor hiccups. Of course the ties with Myanmar were strained to say the least. Having said that the political institutions have remained intact and fatalities from terrorist violence have decreased leaving cause for optimism as the country heads into the election year. Bangladesh would do well to ensure political stability before, during, and after the elections in order to promote polls acceptable to all stakeholders. At the same time, Bangladesh must carefully navigate regional geo-strategic complexities emanating from Myanmar.

This article is not a comprehensive account of the year that 2017 was. But as the headline suggests the article reflects some thoughts on a few aspects of 2017.  

There was much to be happy about Bangladesh’s sporting ventures in 2017. However what really impressed me was the achievement of a group of girls aged fifteen or even less. At a time when the national men’s football team’s performance is steadily going from bad to worse (and this year the men’s senior team ignominiously placed at the lowest ever FIFA ranking) our girls from the under 15 team have won the regional football superiority, beating India. As a matter of fact, women football in Bangladesh showed signs of optimism when the under 16 team made headlines by six consecutive wins, including a 3-0 superiority over strong opponent Iran, to make it to the second round of the U-16 Asian Women’s Qualification in Thailand. When the country celebrated the unbeaten run of the team, tales of women entering football as a result of concerted drives in rural Bangladesh, especially in Kolsindur, Mymensingh, came to the forefront.

The triumph of the girls was not only just a celebration of sport but also of women’s emancipation. The success of the current under-15 team, which is now the South Asian champions, sends a clear signal of a women’s football team committed to keep the pride in the game alive in Bangladesh.  It’s heartening that the PM congratulated the girls after their win and now it’s up to the Football Federation to ensure that enough incentives plus opportunities are provided to the young girls so they can move on to the next levels and, finally, make it to the women’s senior national side. The success of these young girls needs to be seen beyond sporting glory; here we are looking at a group of committed youngsters who have shattered years of taboo, coming out as symbols of a nation’s pride.  What is essential now is to ensure that these girls are not forced to give up football faced with life’s less glamorous demands. We have come across lamentable episodes where regional champion young boys of the age level team had to hang up their boots when faced with the harshness of reality.

While the condition of women is still far from ideal 2017 saw the continued progress of the so-called weaker gender. In the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, Bangladesh ranked at 47, up 25 places from last year’s rank of 72. This is an excellent indication of our nation’s slow and steady march towards progress in the area of gender equality. Bangladesh already has a large number of women working in top positions in the government and in various leadership positions, and this number increases every day. Women in rural and poverty-stricken areas have, thanks to technological advances, been integrated into the mainstream economy at a considerable rate.

The popularity surge of cricket continued this year. Bangladesh beat England and drew with the Australia at home. However the disastrous showing in South Africa should lead to a great deal of soul searching. Being tigers at hope and paper version of the animal abroad is simply not enough for the fans. Making pitches hugely in favour of spinners may win you a couple of series or so, but it may all come unstuck when the opposition has a quality spinner or two in their ranks. The way Nathan Lyon bamboozled the Bangladeshi batsmen makes one shudder to think how they would have coped with India or Pakistan who have genuinely great spinners.   

The Rohingya crisis was a talking point throughout the latter part of 2017. At the time of writing this article an estimated 6,55,000 Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh to avoid the persecution from the Myanmar’s military started on 25 August 2017. It has been well over four month s since the Rohingya first began fleeing to escape the brutality and violence inflicted on them by Myanmar’s military. With the date for their repatriation looming in less than one month’s time, the question remains: how safe will they be once they return? Knut Ostby, the UN’s most senior official in Myanmar, is not convinced and says more villages have been destroyed since the country signed a pact with Bangladesh in November to ensure their safe return. There are concerns about how many of the 650,000-plus Rohingya stranded in makeshift camps in Bangladesh will actually want to return, where they might live and what conditions they might face. Many have lost homes, possessions and family members. A recent Medecins sans Frontieres report put the death toll at 6,700, of whom one in 10 were children under five, who were beaten, burned to death or shot. Migrants displaced by war do not have the fortune of being the masters of their own destiny; their fate is often decided for them. In the case of the Rohingya, even getting the repatriation committee to acknowledge their community name was a battle – so what hope can there be that their human rights will be held sacrosanct?  We can only hope Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi makes a genuine humanitarian efforts towards taking back the Rohingya and makes sure they can live with dignity once they do go back.

It is a matter of great pride that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emerged in 2017 as a genuine global icon. The PM has shown a tremendous ability to beat the odds and take up the mantle for the purpose of leading a troubled nation.

Unfortunately nature has not been kind to Bangladesh this year. The nation has been a victim of serious flooding. Floods come every year, but usually after the crops have been harvested. This year the waters came four weeks early. 200,000 hectares of croplands ready for harvesting have been destroyed, and this is the harvest supplies the region with staple food for the whole year. 213 metric tonnes of fish and 3000 ducks have also died, leaving families in the poorest region of the country with no source of livelihood. Also unexpected is the height of the flood peak which is getting higher and higher in recent times.

The rise of sea level due to climate change will put additional threats to the flooding of our country as it will have backwater effect on floods. Such back water effect will have prolonged the duration of the floods and also increase the flood height of the peak floods. We need to accept the fact that Bangladesh needs to live with flood. However, minimizing human sufferings and loss of lives and assets at the individual level as well as at the national level for continuing the faster pace of development by protecting important infrastructures well conceived ensuring inclusiveness mitigation measures are to be taken. Increasing flood preparedness is another measure that will ensure minimum loss of lives and assets and reduce human sufferings. In this area, regional cooperation is also essential as the rivers flowing through Bangladesh are international rivers and it is a lower riparian country.    

The last few months of the year saw the suffering of the common people reach a peak because of high price of essentials especially the staple of rice and onion. If there is price hike because of market reasons one has to accept it, albeit grudgingly. However there are reasons to believe that it was not just market reasons that led to the price hike. As a matter of fact, regarding the price of rice, the government has said that this hike is not due to any shortage of rice in stock, but has rather been driven by a conspiracy hatched by a certain quarter that is aiming to destabilise the rice market. This is indeed a serious allegation and, if true, demands careful investigation. It has also been alleged by the government and other stakeholders that a section of traders had also made a hefty profit in the last few days, having spread the fake information. This too, we believe, requires thorough investigation. However, what we do find inexcusable is the ministry's inability to foresee and stymie the sudden and sharp increase in the price of the staple, especially at a time when the country is already facing a number of crises, including the devastations caused by floods.

 Artificial price hike must not be tolerated at any cost. The authorities must not let the illegal profiteers and hoarders to exploit the masses. The government should intensify monitoring of the markets by employing special teams led by magistrates, and take stern action against the unscrupulous hoarders and retailers. Unfortunately the TCB (Trading Corporation Bangladesh) is operating virtually as a toothless body. The government should strengthen TCB to its full capacity so that it can effectively curb price manipulation through timely intervention.

The traders attribute the abrupt rise in onion prices in domestic market to the hike in their import cost. Though locally grown onion meets a substantial part of the demand, a large volume of the vegetable is imported from neighbouring India. Since, the price of the item has gone up in the Indian wholesale market, this would obviously have an impact on the Bangladesh market.  However, the impact has no doubt been beyond the rational one.

At least, two ministries-the ministry of commerce and the ministry of agriculture - have under their control a number of organisations that can monitor and research on the market condition of the essential commodities. On their advice, the government can hold discussions with relevant traders on issues of supply and price of any essential or sensitive item, well ahead of a crisis in the market. Similar suggestions were made also in the past, but to no avail. The relevant authorities, on the other hand, tend to become hyper-active when the price situation involving any essential item turns out to be very difficult to tame. There has to be a change in this type of attitude if the ministries concerned are really serious about their efforts to help the poor consumers.

 The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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