Cold wave in Bangladesh
Consequences of poor human security
Bangladesh, a country of tropical weather, enjoys moderate winter. Conversely in the last couple of years we witnessed numerous cold waves during winter in the country. Cold wave causes serious sufferings to the people living in makeshift dwellings without much warm clothes. We still remember the adverse effect of cold wave Bangladesh endured In January 2010, when the northern and southwest parts of the country experienced a rapid fall in temperature resulting in cold winds and dense fog. It caused a significant rise in respiratory illnesses and, in some cases, deaths. Similarly, people across the country have experienced a severe cold wave this month.
It is apparent that a large portion of the population in the country are living under the poverty line not having the adequate capacity to cope with an extreme weather event like a severe cold wave. Human security is another challenge that the poorest segment of the people in Bangladesh are already facing. Daily work of the people comes to a standstill due to a sudden fall in temperature. The low-income people, particularly farm labourers, suffer much as most of them cannot go out for work due to the severe weather and most of them don't have the ability to purchase warm clothes as they cannot go out for work due to the fog and biting cold. Marginalised population in the northern region live in inhuman conditions and severely suffer from cold due to lack of affordability and accessibility to warm clothes.
Cold wave victims, irrespective of ages and classes, try their best to save themselves from the severe cold wave by wearing warm clothes and firing woods. Thick fog occurs over the river basins and moderate to thick fog elsewhere across the country. Due to extreme cold and the absence of sufficient sunlight, normal growth of all crops, particularly Boro seedlings, is affected and it eventually could hit the Boro harvest. Conventionally every year the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and the Prime Minister's Office make every effort to stand beside the distressed people who are unable to buy warm clothes. Besides, UN agencies, development partners, national and international NGOs (non-government organisations), Red Cross/Red Crescent and corporate sectors come forward to reduce sufferings of cold wave victims.
Whereas typical understanding of security underlines the military defence of national interests, human security provides an alternative-a human-centred perspective that focuses on securing and protecting individuals so that they are "free from want" and "free from fear". It deals a broader understanding of security, by combining concerns of development and human rights as well as traditional values. Human security emphasises the needs, capacities and experiences of individuals on the ground. It is extensively applied in the fields of peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, development, education and health. Nevertheless, human security debates and policies have tended to focus more on individuals to ensure their minimum access to basic services. In situations like a cold wave the practical value of the human security approach lies in its ability to focus on actual human needs and coordinate the efforts of many different actors. A human security perspective encourages us to consider the needs of the most vulnerable people of the country, most notably protecting women, children and the elderly who are exposed to vulnerability.
As was in the past, the government continued their efforts to stand beside the distressed people unable to buy warm clothes. Besides, non-state actors and well-off people in society also extended their helping hand to reduce the sufferings of cold wave victims with ample assistance this year. Let the government lead the social changes by the way of upholding the spirit of human security. While the non-state actors are still concerned about improving human development, becoming involved in human security initiatives also helps them fortify their positions as organisations and enhance their contribution that they are able to make to the poor and distressed people whom they already work with. There is a need for a paradigm shift in the government's stand-from teaching the local people to learning together with them. As far as the development approaches of the government are concerned, mainstreaming human security is an important point as it relates to human vulnerabilities. It helps reduce the grave consequences of cold wave for human safety and wellbeing.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, and former UN Development Practitioner.
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