The Financial Express

Bringing 'small things' into focus

Bringing 'small things' into focus

Eleven years after one cyclone had exposed houses and arable land to onslaught of saline waters, another one found the people of Bangladesh's coastal belt barely protected. Amphan's trail of devastation brought the Aila memory of 2009 so close to 2020 that a decade doesn't seem to be enough to repair or rebuild a number of affected embankments for protection from surging sea waters.

Causing damage to life, property and environment, cyclone makes headlines but ultimately leaves local residents to deal with their own losses unless socio-political initiatives are there to remedy public suffering. Days after Amphan's landfall, its effects were reduced to local affairs, as was the case for Aila victims.

Credit or discredit for not turning post-Amphan challenges into a national issue, unlike prominent coverage of the 2007 cyclone of Sidr, goes to a pandemic that has obsessed the mankind with health and financial crises. So, the villagers of Satkhira and Khulna region can't get the policy attention they expect and deserve to their appeal for helping them build embankment with proper height.

In 2009, policy activists issued a note of warning: 'A new disaster might befall the Aila-hit area in the coastal belt if breaches in the embankments at six major points in Satkhira and Khulna are not repaired immediately'. This was reportedly a cause for concern for then around 700,000 vulnerable human beings - fewer than the latest number of Rohingyas given shelter in Cox's Bazar, who drew global attention, still failing to secure a UN Security Council resolution for remedial measures by Myanmar.

Desperation of the locals during the recent cyclone was evident in a photograph, widely shared online, showing the people using themselves as human shield to protect an embankment. In a video conference on May 25, development activists from a number of coastal districts regretted that embankments meant for protecting interests of the poor are not any priority project. Some of these embankments were built in the 1960s and changes in policy regimes in the meantime didn't offer any long-lasting solution to the masses of the coastal region.

The moment the coronavirus pandemic is in the spotlight, smaller issues within this greater crisis mostly miss policymakers' attention. In the war on Covid-19, on the contrary, China's concentration that ping pong balls require, was on issues of minor details, such as use of databank of infected people and potential patients to detect and treat them, as well as to quarantine the disease itself. Not even the efficiency and prompt actions so far proved by some junior public servants and policemen in rural Bangladesh are seen in enforcing lockdown or identifying patients in the capital city of Dhaka.

There was a struggle for preparing the list of potential beneficiaries of the emergency assistance. The process of distribution of foods among the poor couldn't be made free from the prowl of greedy eyes. Had there been a databank of the less visible faces of society, healthcare facilities, seasonal and overseas jobs, training programmes, cash support and  social benefits could have smoothly been provided and doled out, leaving hardly any room for criticism.

Digitisation - a national slogan for over a decade- hasn't properly covered the very thing of education in a way that could have ensured smooth online classes for all students - urban and rural as well as children of rich and poor families. This 'little' issue is revealed only when the need for continuing learning, staying at home is felt.

Negligence to issues of how each individual can earn a living and change his/her lots, has led to operation of human traffickers who entice unemployed youth into adventurous journey through the Mediterranean. Thus, there is no official answer to how 26 Bangladeshi migrants went to civil war-torn Libya only to become victims of shooting.

In a world of propaganda and conflict of interests, a handful of big issues eclipse countless small matters which, however, form a popular issue in course of time, a process that only pro-people, prudent leaders take notice of.



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