Potholes with yawning gaps greet motorists as soon as they hit the Comilla-Sylhet Regional Highway and it's a bumpy ride for most of this high-speed corridor.
Thanks to the monsoon rains, the condition of the highway that connects Sylhet with the port city of Chattogram has only worsened, making thousands of motorists face untold misery. As usual, they allege, shoddy road repairs did not last even a month this year andauthorities have now turned a blind eye to their sufferings.
Motorists say the pothole-ridden regional highway, one of the busiest in Bangladesh, not only puts them at the risk of accidents but also damages their vehicles due to wear and tear.
The Comilla-Sylhet Regional Highway is used by hundreds of trucks plying daily from Sylhet to the southeastern part of the country, including the port city. Cargo lorries carrying goods to Agartala in India's Tripura district through the Akhaura land port also use this corridor. Goods vehicles in hundreds also use this road to reach at least 15 districts of the country.
Local residents of Debidwar and Muradnagar say that road repair work is carried out every year, before the monsoon, but because of usage of sub-standard materials to macadamize the stretch, the corridor crumbles within a month.
"Authorities often close one of the two lanes of the road in the name of road repair work, giving motorists a harrowing time, as it triggers massive jams on the highway. This has been the trend for the past so many years," said a local resident.
Also, road repair work in Jafarganj, Kangshanagar, Mainamati Cantonment and Companiganj areas of the highway have been going on at a very slow pace for the past one year.
Abul Kalam, a bus driver, said he has been experiencing inconvenience on the regional highway for the past 15 years. "Sometimes the road is repaired, but it does not last even a month. This road needs to be concretised as many overloaded vehicles use it."
Khokon Mia, a resident of Debidwar upazila, said substandard materials were used to repair the roads. "Also the accumulation of rain water creates potholes on the road, causing further inconvenience to commuters," he said.
When contacted, Dr Md Ahad Ullah, executive engineer of Comilla RHD, attributed the damage to the highway to overloaded vehicles plying on the stretch on a daily basis. "The road cannot carry excess load. The entire stretch needs to be rebuilt," he said.
Claiming that repair work is currently underway, he said, "The entire stretch will be repaired once the rainy season is over and before the next monsoon."
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"The pain that riverbank erosion has caused over the past decade is immense. I have lost everything to the natural calamity — my home, my livelihood," says
Rabiul Islam, a resident of Koira upazila who has now relocated to Dhaka in search of work.
Like Rabiul, there are a large number of people who have suffered displacement and hardship in the coastal upazila due to continuous riverbank erosion and cyclones. In fact, natural calamities have rendered over 16,000 people homeless in Koira in the past 11 years, UNB has learnt.
Locals say that Kobotak and Shakbaria rivers cause riverbank erosion in the area. Over the past decade, the majority of farm lands and homes in the upazila have been washed away by the rivers. The number of people who are losing their lands to the rivers is also increasing with each passing day.
The ordeal, in fact, started in 2009 when Cyclone Ayla had hit the coastal area, flattening the majority of houses and prompting locals to flee. This year, Cyclone Ampan also caused huge destruction to the coastal upazila, damaging embankments at 21 places.
Of the 16,000 families in the upazila who had abandoned their homes due to the natural calamities since Cyclone Ayla made landfall, some 10 per cent have gone to local shelters, 60 per cent to various other places across the country and the remaining 30 percent to neighboring India, say local officials.
According to them, many residents of Koira are now settled in the neighboring districts of Satkhira, Jashore, Jhenaidah, Gopalganj, Bagerhat. The number of displaced people is increasing due to repeated riverbank erosion.
Also increasing salinity in water poses health risks to locals, forcing many to leave Koira. "The salinity problem started after Cyclone Ayla. The problem has only gotten worse since then. Due to salt water consumption, we are getting various skin ailments. This is another reason behind people leaving the area," says Altaf Hossain.
The situation is similar in Koira Sadar and Maharajpur union, Katmarchar, Hajatkhali, Kashirhat Khola, Gazipara of North Bedkashi union, Harinkhola of Koyra sadar union, Koyra 2 union, and Gobra, Ghatakhali and Dashahalia areas of Maharajpur union.
Experts attribute the frequent riverbank erosion to the fragile soil along the banks and suggest construction of tidal dams to prevent it.
Prof Dilip Kumar Dutt of the Department of Environmental Sciences at Khulna University, says, "The capacity and depth of the rivers is decreasing day by day. As a result, water is overflowing even when it rains a little. The riverbanks are breaking."
"Moreover, the rivers are changing directions now. The soil along the rivers is very fragile and breaks down easily. The river must be freed to deal with the situation. Tidal dams (TRMs) have to be set up on the river," he adds.
Koira Upazila Nirbahi Officer Animesh Biswas admits that many families have become homeless due to Cyclone Amphan. "These families are being given support by the government as well as the private sector," he says. "The entire coastal region needs a sustainable embankment."
The South Asian Regional Center of Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) in Dhaka will play a role in scaling up and accelerating the action of adaptation in the region as South Asia is the most vulnerable to climate change.
"If you want to scale up and accelerate adaptation action, it's extremely important that we learn what’s working and what is not working," said Patrick V Verkooijen, the CEO of Global Centre on Adaptation (CGA).
He said lots of adaptation action is already happening in the whole region, particularly Bangladesh.
Patrick said their strong focus will be on replication of best practices with intervention in the region through success stories.
"We’ll be sharing our expertise and experiences through GCA. I hope when we’ll show those successful examples, other partners will come forward," Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told UNB.
Asked whether Bangladesh sees any genuine commitment from the international community on the climate front and help address challenges in the region, he said, "Of course, I see but it's limited."
Dr Momen said the GCA Centre in Dhaka itself is a support and there are commitments that many other countries will come forward. "Bangladesh has done an excellent job alone."
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2019, the countries in South Asia are among the most vulnerable globally to the impacts of climate change.
Bangladesh was the first country in the world to create a National Adaptation Programme of Action and is the current Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum and Vulnerable Group of Twenty (V20) Ministers of Finance.
Seeking help from all, including the media, the Foreign Minister said they have to carry out a campaign to that end.
"We’ve one planet. We’ve to save it. We, therefore, have to work together," said the Foreign Minister adding that their partners have been helping them in a variety of ways, the UK, for example.
Dr Momen, however, said it is still short of expectations if they talk about the way other partners should come forward. "It's not our problem only. It's a global problem. And it has to be addressed globally. All countries have to come forward. There’s no alternative," said the Foreign Minister.
Patrick said they are very keen to work with governments, partners and development partners in the region to really align with their efforts. "Together, it’s indicative, much stronger and much more impactful."
Regarding global commitment and support, he said there is support like the Dutch government but much more is required from the international community as a whole to support and help address the very urgent challenges for the years to come.
Bangladesh described the recently opened South Asian Regional Center of Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) in Dhaka as a milestone for international partnership.
Bangladesh says it is ready to share its experiences and best practices regarding adaptation and disaster management. The country has already formulated 82 year-long “Delta Plan 2100” which is a living test case for all the deltas of the world.
Almost half a million people perished during a devastating cyclone in 1970.
"But due to our cyclone and Disaster Preparedness progress in 2009, although we faced similar devastating cyclone and tidal waves, only 190 people died," said the Foreign Minister.
Bangladesh hopes to receive necessary support from the international development partners in its efforts as it is very easy to achieve and demonstrate climate resilience successes in this region.
On September 8, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina virtually launched the Global Centre on Adaptation’s new regional office in Dhaka, GCA Bangladesh, with Ban Ki-moon, Chair of the Global Centre on Adaptation and 8th Secretary General of the United Nations and Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte.
The regional office will work with support from South Asian governments, city mayors, business leaders, investors, communities and civil society in accelerating and scaling effective adaptation solutions to tackle the climate emergency.
Ban Ki-moon Bangladesh is a striking example of how vulnerable communities can be the most innovative in adapting to climate change. "Through GCA Bangladesh the valuable lessons it has learnt will help the rest of the world adapt to our new climate reality," he said.
Hasina to lead global leaders at CVF Event
Meanwhile, Bangladesh along with Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) will host the virtual Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Leaders’ Event on Wednesday evening.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as the current President of CVF, will chair the event.
UN Secretary General António Guterres, Chair of GCA Ban Ki-moon, heads of state and government of the CVF countries, the United Kingdom and Italy (host and co-host of COP26), The Netherlands, CVF Thematic Ambassadors and other international partners will be present at the event.
The Foreign Minister and Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister will also join it.
As the recent spate of rape and sexual harassment of women rocked the country, experts called for ensuring exemplary punishment of the culprits and their abettors through prompt trials since 97 percent perpetrators now get off the hook in many ways.
They said sexual harassment has turned out to be the most dangerous menace in the country as perverted men from 20-year-old youths to 80-year-old ones are indulging in such crimes due to a culture of impunity, moral degradation and political backing, leniency of law enforcers, prolonged trial process and improper police investigation.
Prof Ziaur Rahman of Dhaka University’s Criminology department, former Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra Sheepa Hafiza and ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir said the recent incidents like gang-rape in Sylhet and sexual harassment in Noakhali are a wakeup call for the government which needs to act fast to address the problem.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a rights body, 975 women were raped, including 208 subjected to gang-rape, from January to September 30 this year.
Of them, 45 were killed after rape and 12 others killed themselves.
Besides, it said, 161 women were subjected to sexual harassment and 12 of them took their own lives during the period.
ASK also said three women and nine men were killed for protesting the incidents of sexual harassment.
Besides, 627 children were raped and 20 boys were molested while 21 women fell victims to acid attacks.
Sheepa Hafiza said rape, sexual harassment and violence against women are gradually increasing mainly for the culture of impunity and the state’s apathy to control it.
She said the number of such acts has increased as the offenders have got an impression that they will go unpunished.
“I think the state is not considering the rape and sexual harassment as a serious crime. Politicians are not still saying they’re ashamed of such brutality and not assuring the victims of justice. The rapists are not properly punished by the 150-yer-old law,” Sheepa observed.
To address such social menace, she said, the law must be amended and make it a time-befitting one and enforce it properly.
Sheepa said police should change their attitude towards the victims of any rape and sexual harassment, and a women-friendly atmosphere needs to be ensured at police stations.
“Whenever a victim of rape and sexual harassment goes to the police, she is harassed again through various indecent gestures and unwarranted questions. So, many victims don’t get encouraged to go to the police and to seek legal action,” she pointed out.
The human rights activist said political parties always try to avoid their responsibility by expelling rapists from their parties and branding them as infiltrators. “We’re now seeing incidents mostly committed by ruling party men. But ruling party leaders are not much vocal against it and not taking steps to prevent their followers from committing such inhuman acts. Zero tolerance must be shown against rape and sexual harassment.”
Emphasis on Exemplary Punishment
Farah Kabir said male-dominated society, family, the judiciary and the politicians are not sincere in stopping heinous and inhuman acts like rape and violence against women.
“Is there any guarantee that the rapists will be punished? Is there any guarantee that the state, society, family and politicians will stop pampering rapists? How will we check rape if the rapists are not given exemplary punishment and if they’re given shelter by politicians, police and their families? she said.
Farah criticised the Home Minister for his recent comment that ‘rape incidents happen everywhere in the world’, saying he made such a remark to avoid his responsibility and pamper the offenders.
“Playing a responsible role by all is necessary in addressing this serious menace. Where is our administration, the rule of law, morality, social, family and religious education? The assaulters have become so desperate that they themselves are posting videos of their heinous acts. How do they dare do it? We must think of it and act fast to ensure the safety and dignity of women.”
Weak Criminal Justice System
Ziaur Rahman said failure to contain sexual urge, rise in drug abuse and pornography, patriarchal attitude towards women, and very weak criminal justice system are the main reasons for which the violence against women is growing in the country.
“Our existing legal system is so week that only 3 percent criminals indulging in rape and other sexual violence are getting punished while 97 percent get off the hook in many ways,” he observed.
In Bangladesh, he said, law enforcers have a history of improper dealing of cases and clearing offenders through underhand dealings. More worrying is that rape cases filed with police stations across the country are much too low, Ziaur Rahman added.
The 1,320 MW coal-fired Payra power plant in Patuakhali district's Kalapara upazila is ready to operate at full blast.
Officials said the second unit of the plant, a joint venture between Bangladesh and China, has attained its generation capacity of 660 MW over the past three months and is now ready for commercial operation.
“The second unit is ready. We’ll soon put forward our proposal to the state-owned Power Bangladesh Development Board (PBDB) to start operation,” Shah Abdul Maula, project director of Bangladesh-China Power Company Limited (BCPCL), told UNB.
BCPCL, a joint venture between state-owned North-West Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited (NWPGCL) and China National Machinery Import & Export Corporation, has set up the plant at $2 billion as part of a development partnership.
After undergoing test runs for about five months, the first unit of the Payra power plant started commercial operation in May this year.
And if both the units are allowed to operate simultaneously, the plant will jointly generate 1320 MW electricity, thus setting a milestone in the country’s power sector. So far, 450 MW of power has been generated from a single power plant in Bangladesh.
Though Power Transmission Company of Bangladesh (PGCB) has recently undertaken a number of transmission projects to facilitate evacuation of electricity from the Payra power project, officials are not hopeful of getting a nod for simultaneous operation of the two units.
"This is because transmission lines are not yet synchronised. In such a case, we will go for alternative operation of the two units," an official said.
These transmission projects include construction of 160km 400kV double circuit line from Payra plant to Gopalganj, 164.6km Aminbazar–Mawa–Gopalganj-Mongla 400 kV double circuit line and 9.4km river-crossing line close to Padma Bridge.
PGCB officials said all these projects are being implemented targeting the power evacuation from both the Payra and Rampal plants and these will cost about Tk 4,650 crore, of which Tk 3,294 crore will be spent on Payra plant transmission facilities.
However, the 9.4km river-crossing line close to Padma Bridge has not been progressing in an expected pace, which is creating an obstacle for evacuation of entire electricity from the Payra power plant, officials said.
Admitting the delay, PGCB managing director Golam Kibria said the deadline to implement all the Payra-linked transmission projects is March 2021. "But the delay in Padma Bridge work due to Covid-19 could push the deadline to December next year."