Friday, November 30, 2007

Bangladesh heading for silent famine

Bangladesh heading for 'silent famine', say experts
Source: Indian Muslims

Dhaka : Hit thrice by disaster this year, Bangladesh could be heading for a "silent famine", economists and politicians have said, echoing the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) assessment that this is the "worst year" for the country since it became free in 1971.

Cyclone Sidr, which hit the country on Nov 15, could have a cumulative effect after two rounds of floods, taking a severe toll on crops, and threatening agriculture and income-generating activities, experts interviewed by the New Age daily said.

Those who stopped short of predicting a famine, also draw a grim picture of the economy of this disaster-prone nation that depends heavily on foreign aid.

"A silent famine is just round the corner. It's a big challenge to import food and a bigger challenge to empower the affected people with purchasing capacity after giving food aid," economist Mahbub Ullah told the New Age newspaper.

ADB's country director Hua Du Monday termed the country's situation "the most critical one after independence in 1971".

Ruling out the possibility of a famine, however, she said that there should be a huge stress on food security.

"I have studied Bangladesh for several decades since its independence, but I have never sensed such difficulties as the country is going to face this year," she said.

Endorsing Hua's suggestion that the farmers be provided inputs to enable them to recoup the losses caused by the cyclone and floods, Bangladeshi experts said these must include housing material.

Politicians warned that there might be a severe food crisis in the country, particularly in the Sidr-affected southern part, unless an adequate quantity of food grain was immediately imported and distributed.

Matia Chowdhury, a former agriculture and food minister and Awami League leader, said a food crisis could not be averted if the government failed to import food grain as per the demand through both public and private initiatives.

"Surely there will be a food crisis although I do not want to use the word famine. The development partners (foreign donors) should not do their job just by making comments. They should extend their helping hands as well," she said.

Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a joint secretary-general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said: "A food crisis is imminent because there is shortage of fertilisers and other inputs after the damage caused by the calamities."

He accused the government of having "double standards" as politicians were being barred from taking part in the relief activities. This might lead to failure to give the people a sense of direction in coping with the calamity.

Rashed Khan Menon, president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, agreed with Hua's observations on the state of the economy. He said: "We too believe that the country is facing a dangerous situation."

The Communist Party of Bangladesh's general secretary, Mujahidul Islam Selim, accused the ADB and other lending agencies of "damaging the economy and causing the current stagflation".

"It is true that the country is suffering from a severe crisis but Hua Du did not mention that they (international lenders) were also responsible for the economic situation," Selim said.

Selim blamed part of the crisis on the "wrong policies of the World Bank and IMF."

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