Hostel accommodation for single women in Dhaka city may face a severe crisis in the post-lockdown period as most of them have been forced to shutdown during the lockdown.
Talking to many owners and managers who run such hostels in the city, it was learned that they are now mostly confused as to how to return to the business.
Working women, applicants for different jobs, private university students who come from outside the city usually live in such city hostels due to the huge crisis of accommodation at the government level.
The number of private hostels for single working women in the city has grown as the number of government hostels proved inadequate to accommodate them.
These hostels were the last resort for single, working women or students from outside Dhaka city looking to live in a secured and safe environment.
Tamanna Tamim, a student at a private university who left Dhaka during the closure of educational institutions brought on by the pandemic, told UNB how it is proving difficult for her to find a new place now that she is looking to return, in anticipation of her classes resuming. But her old hostel has gone out of business.
The ones that are available meanwhile, have raised their rent and other charges, she said.
Sapna Akter, supervisor of a leading hostel Nibedika which has more than a hundred branches in the city, said "We cannot express how we pass our time. During this lockdown we face a lot of challenges as we cannot pay the rent timely. We did not get cooperation from the property’s owners in some cases."
"Even we did not find any solution complaining to the police as the house owners are influential. They threw out the furnitures, goods of the tenants in their absence," she also said.
She added that they are trying their best to protect the possessions of the tenants who have left these behind in many cases, especially important paperworks.
Longtime lockdown has almost crippled them as they are having to continue paying rent to the4 property owners to continue their business. It will be a great challenge for those who have to recover the loss incurred, the supervisor said.
President of Hostel Owners Association of Bangladesh Asadujjaman said they are trying to return to business, but it will not be possible for many hostels to do so.
He said there are more than a thousand hostels around the city. But he expects half of these hostels to shut down. Many have already closed as they were really in crisis due to COVID -19.
He also sought support from the government to reopen their hostel. Otherwise it will worsen the accomodation problem of the single women after opening the educational institutions.
The Department of Women Affairs (DWA) informed that there are altogether three government hostels for working women in Dhaka. These are at Nilkhet, Mirpur and Khilgaon, providing only 893 places - far below the required number, that runs into the tens of thousands.
It said that the construction works for vertical extension of two hostels in Mirpur and Khilgaon are underway. It also said that there is a plan to establish another 10-storey building in the premises of Nilkhet Kormojibi Mohila Hostel.
According to Bangladesh Quarterly Labour Force Survey 2015-2016 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), some 4.43 million women are working in the country’s urban areas including the capital city of Dhaka.
Construction work in Thakurgaon has come to a standstill due to lack of sand and road works worth Tk 15 crore have been halted midway in the municipality alone.
Recently, Thakurgaon Deputy Commissioner KM Kamruzzaman Selim declared that there is no sand mahal in the district and extraction of sand from different rivers or banks of the district was declared illegal.
A few days ago, two sand extraction ghats of Tangan river were declared closed. Fines are also being levied through mobile courts for extracting sand from the river during the day, which has doubled the price of sand overnight.
A few days ago, a trolley (100 CFT) of sand was sold in the district for between Tk 900 and Tk 1,100. That sand is now being sold at a price of Tk 1,800 to Tk 2,000 for each trolley.
Asked why the price of sand suddenly went up, a trolley driver named Shaheen said, "Now we have to extract sand in secret, deposit Tk 500 in the ghat and pay Tk 300 on the road. Earlier this cost was only Tk 200-300.”
Murad Hossain, Senior Vice-president of Thakurgaon Chamber of Commerce, said development work worth around Tk 15 crore has been stopped in Thakurgaon municipality alone due to lack of sand. “It is also uncertain when this work will restart.”
Deputy Commissioner KM Kamruzzaman Selim said, there is no sand mahal in Thakurgaon district. Previously there were two sandpits but they have been closed. I have instructed surveying to determine which places can be declared as sand mahal.”
“Following some procedures, we will announce and lease the sandpit as soon as we can. This will take some time,” he added.
Talking about the suspension of various development works due to lack of sand, he said, "We are talking to the higher authorities."
Thakurgaon Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Abdullah-Al Mamun said, "We conducted operations at one or two ghats at night to catch illegal sand extractors, but due to various restrictions, it is not always possible at night."
"I have already submitted a proposal to the deputy commissioner...three sand mahals have been proposed to start extraction in Pirganj," he added.
Talking about the closure of various development works, he said, "Since there is no sand mahal in Thakurgaon at the moment, work can be done by bringing sand from the neighboring districts of Dinajpur or Panchagarh."
Some contractors of the district expressed their displeasure on hearing about bringing sand from Dinajpur or Panchagarh district.
One local influential business leader said that if a trolley of sand is brought from a neighboring district, the price of sand will jump to Tk 5,000-6,000. “It will not be possible for any contractor to continue the work paying that much,” he said.
Local traders also argued that the district administration must take clearances from seven to eight departments including PWD, Water Development Board, Department of Environment, Roads and Highways, Fire Brigade and more to open up new sand mahal which is a lengthy process.
Nothing seems to be going right for the cattle farmers of Jashore's Keshabpur upazila.
With river dredging rendering the upazila's soil unsuitable for growing paddy, most cattle farmers in the area have started selling their livestock for a paltry amount as it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find fodder.
Moreover, whatever straw they had stockpiled for their livestock got soaked in the recent monsoon rains. Also the costly paddy husk, wheat bran and mustard husk used as major feed grains for cattle are adding to their woes.
Babu, a local farmer, says, "It is becoming increasingly impossible for us to rear cattle due to the straw crisis. Many people are taking advantage of the crising and selling straw at high prices. Over a month, the prices have been doubled. “
"Even the prices of dry food for cattle, including paddy husk, wheat bran and mustard husk for cattle have gone up. We are really struggling to survive. We hope the straw prices will come down in the Bengali months of Kartik and Agrahayon," he adds.
A realty check by UNB has also revealed that paddy husks are being sold in Keshabpur at Tk 550-600 per sack (weighing 50 kg each) , wheat bran at Tk 1600 per sack (weighing 50 kg each) and mustard husk at Tk 200 per sack (weighing 25 kg), a substantial rise from the earlier Tk 450, Tk 1,500 and Tk 100 per sacks, respectively.
As a result, cattle farmers say they are letting their livestock go at throwaway prices in the local market. These days, the price of a cow has come down to Tk 45,000 from the eralierTk 65,000.
Dr Alokesh Kumar Sarkar, the upazila's veterinary surgeon, acknowledges the hardships being endured by the cattle farmers. “There are 192 cattle farms in the upazila, with 90,000 livestock. Some 180 metric tonnes of straw are needed to meet the fodder demand."
“Besides, 200 parcels of land have been brought under Napier grass cultivation from where 65,000 kg of grass is being sourced, but it is not serving the purpose as shortage remains.
However, the authorities concerned have provided training to some 1,200 farmers for growing grass," he adds.
A by-product of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids, Trans Fatty Acid (TFA), commonly known as trans fat, has now emerged as a deadly threat to life on Earth and Bangladesh as well.
This abdominal fat is dangerous because it pumps out chemicals that are linked to the risk of diabetes and heart disease, several studies have pointed out.
According to WHO, 277,992 people in Bangladesh die each year of heart-related diseases and 4.4 percent of those are directly attributed to trans fat intake. Government and healthcare experts are working to follow the WHO guidelines for eliminating trans fat from the food cycle by 2023.
Trans fat sources
Partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) were commercially introduced in the early 20th century.
This process through which liquid vegetable oil could be made solid or semi-solid at room temperature won its inventors a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1912. Now, this has turned out to be a boomerang for the mass consumers.
When the vegetable oil is converted into butter-like semi-solid margarine or hard dalda, these become PHOs, the main source of industrially-produced TFA. It can contain up to 25-45 percent of trans fat.
Also, if vegetable oils are used over and over while deep frying foods using the same oil repeatedly for a long time at high temperatures, TFAs are produced.
Usually, restaurants use the same oil for multiple cycles in order to reduce their cost of preparing food.
According to a study by PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress), randomly sampled biscuits of 12 different bakeries from the markets of Dhaka city were found to contain five to 39 percent of TFAs, more than the WHO's recommended level (less than 2 percent of total fat).
Very low traces of TFA can be found in beef, mutton, dairy milk and dairy products but they are virtually harmless for the human body.
How does trans fat affect the body
TFAs reduce the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good cholesterol’ from blood serum, leading to the accumulation of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad cholesterol’ in the blood vessels and ultimately disrupting the blood flow.
Consequently, excessive consumption of trans fat results in an increased risk of coronary heart disease, increased risk of death from heart diseases, dementia and cognitive impairment.
Trans fat intake is strongly associated with diabetes while a high level of TFAs increases the overall death risk by 34 percent. It also increases the risk of heart diseases by 21 percent and the risk of deaths from such diseases by 28 percent.
Policy to remove trans fat: what do experts say
According to a report by WHO published on September 9, Bangladesh stands among 15 countries with the world’s highest burden of coronary heart disease due to trans fat.
Experts and government officials have been in talks to enact proper regulations in line with WHO’s goal of elimination of industrially produced TFA from the global food supply by 2023.
WHO recommends either limiting TFA to 2g per 100g total fat in oils, and foods, or banning the production and use of PHO.
Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) Member and Technical Committee on Transfat Member Prof Md Abdul Alim said in a meeting of the technical committee held on September 28, that they have decided to formulate policies on trans fat control immediately.
“Although we don’t have enough time till 2023, we are in talks with all stakeholders to stop the production of trans fat as soon as possible,” he said earlier.
Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution's (BSTI) Deputy Director (Agriculture and Food) Golam Md Sarwar said it is a good sign that public awareness has risen against excessive intake of trans fat.
Also read: Risks of trans fat-induced CVDs on the rise
“Albeit late, public awareness has developed against TFA...a rigid law is necessary in this regard,” he said.
He also explained that if the law bans the use of PHO or limits the TFA level, then the production will also reduce automatically. “And those who will not comply will be directly accountable.”
National Heart Foundation Hospital & Research Institute Epidemiology & Research Head Prof Dr Sohel Reza Chowdhury emphasised proper dietary habits among the public alongside legal restrictions to tackle the threat of trans fat.
“The nature of fatality has changed in Bangladesh and now we are dying because of our food intake,” he said in a seminar.
He noted that the lack of a proper diet is equally responsible for trans fat induced health issues. “We should avoid highly salted food and stop taking food from streetside restaurants.”
Full of pits and potholes, the approach road to Sonahat Land Port in Kurigram's Bhurungamari upazila has started to resemble the Moon's surface.
Local traders, who are the worst hit, say their repeated complaints to authorities about the poor condition of the 3.43km stretch from Sonahat Bridge to the port, which deteriorates during monsoon, have only fallen on deaf ears.
As the 18th land port of the country, the Sonahat facility was unveiled in 2016, ushering in a ray of hope that the zone would be another trade hub of the country. But four years on, authorities have not been able to construct a smooth approach road — a basic civic amenity.
Traders say exports and imports have been falling by the day as only a few freight trucks enter Bangladesh from India through the port. And those which enter often get stuck in potholes and pits.
UNB has learnt that the Roads and Highways Department started road construction work on December 5 last year, being financed by the Asian Development Bank.
A whopping Tk 44.62 crore was allocated for the construction of the 43km road from Kurigram to the land port. Local construction farm Mojahar Enterprise was assigned for the road construction work. But nothing has changed on the ground.
Local traders say around 200 Indian trucks used to enter Bangladesh through the land port area daily earlier. “But, these days, only 20 to 30 trucks come from India due to the dilapidated condition of the road,” a trader said.
Rajab Ali, a shopkeeper in the area, vented out his anger. "My business is suffering as people refrain from using the road due to its poor condition. Road construction is taking place but at a snail's pace," he said.
Indian truck drivers also expressed anger over the poor state of the road.
Abul Hossain, an Indian driver, said goods laden trucks frequently suffer breakdown on the road. “That is why we refrain from entering Bangladesh through this road,” he added.
Abdur Razzaque, general secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association, blamed negligence on part of the contractor and the authorities in getting a road done in four years.
“Although we’ve repeatedly informed the authorities about the issue, no concrete steps have been taken yet. As a result, the traders are badly affected and the government is also losing revenue,” he said.
When contacted, Ali Nurain, executive engineer of the Roads and Highways Department of Kurigram, said construction work will start soon.
Despite repeated attempts, the construction firm could not be reached.