Once a sleeping port, Mongla is now a vital part of Bangladesh's economic infrastructure.
In fact, with the anchoring of the 117th foreign vessel on New Year's Eve, Mongla port touched a milestone in the monthly statistics of handling shipments in the past 70 years, surpassing all its previous records.
A Panama-flagged ship, ‘MV Wanda’, anchored at the port's Mooring Bay No 10 on Thursday night. The ship had left the port of Georges Lasfar in Morocco with fertilisers for unloading at Mongla on November 23.
With the arrival of MV Wanda, the port surpassed its previous record of foreign vessel handling at 106 in November 2020.
Harbour Master of Mongla Port, Commander Sheikh Fokor Uddin said that the recent dredging on the tidal estuary of the Bay of Bengal turned the corner of navigability at the port. "Not only that, the increasing modern facilities at the port have been prompting more foreign vessels to anchor at Mongla."
Statistics show that the number of ships arriving at the port has been increasing with each passing year, the Harbour Master said. "In 2014-15 fiscal, some 416 ships had docked at the port. The figure rose to 482 in 2015-16. In the next financial year, some 624 vessels had arrived while the number was 784 in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the number stood 912."
In the current fiscal, we hope the figure will exceed 1,000, Commander Sheikh added.
The foreign vessels that docked at the port last year included container carriers, car carriers, coal carriers, urea fertiliser suppliers. The foreign vessels also carried a nuclear reactor with other equipment, goods of power plants and railway cargo, cement clinker and LPG.
This gradual growth in shipments is boosting activity around the export zone. New industries are coming up, creating more job opportunities, according to officials.
Chairman of the Mongla Port Authority, Rear Admiral M Shahjahan said that "the navigability crisis at the port is over". "Ships with 9.5 metres drafting are now being able to anchor at the port comfortably. We hope Mongla port will be able to handle over 1,000 ships this fiscal."
The seaport that once faced closure, is now keeping pace with Chittagong, the largest seaport of Bangladesh. And the facilities offered by the port are now harmonious with other export zones.
Moreover, an agreement signed with a Chinese company for Inner bar dredging on December 30, will come into effect from this month. Once complete, it will pave the way for the port to become an apt alternative to Chittagong port.
Although imports fell drastically in the 2019-20 fiscal, the government aims to turn things around aiming for average import growth of 8% per year over the next three fiscals, including the current 2020-21.
The last quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal (April-June) coincided with the peak of the economic ravage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 'lockdown' and other measures implemented by governments worldwide, including Bangladesh, in response to the virus had a massive impact on economic activity. Depressed demand, fall in consumption and lower imports all went hand-in-hand.
According to available data from the country's central bank, Bangladesh's imports (including both goods and services) during the 2019-20 fiscal stood at $55.6 billion (over Tk 471,000) down from $62.9 billion (over Tk 528,000 crore ) in 2018-19, reflecting a decrease of 11.6%.
Imports of EPZs in the 2019-20 fiscal was Tk 25,631.7 crore, compared to Tk 30,830 crore in 2018-19, a fall of nearly 17 percent, which means EPZ imports fell proportionately more than overall imports.
According to an official document, the import growth projection for the running fiscal has been fixed at 10%, followed by 8% and 7% for 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscals.
Imports for the 2019-20 fiscal were preliminarily projected to grow 10%, but later it was fixed at negative 10% due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The import growth in 2018-19 fiscal was 1.8%, according to official numbers.
It said that from the first half of the last fiscal the economy showed sluggish trend in import growth. The origination of coronavirus in Wuhan in January and worldwide lockdown added more woe to the scenario.
From July to March 2020 the import amount was USD 43.58 billion which is 4.81% lower than the previous year's corresponding period.
The growth of overall Letter of Credit or L/Cs opening for July to February 2020 was negative 1.04% while the opening of L/Cs for capital machineries was negative 0.57% and for import of raw materials was negative 1.24%.
The document mentioned that from March 26 the country went under 66 days of general holidays resulting in curtailing of most economic activities. From May 2020 the mills and factories were opened in limited scale.
As per the document, the government for revamping the export sector, which is mainly dependent on imported raw materials and capital machineries, had announced a financial stimulus package as a countercyclical measure.
To put the economic activities on track again, the government had announced stimulus packages worth Tk 121,000 crore, which is equivalent to 4.3 percent of country's GDP, at the initial stage of the general holidays to minimize the impacts COVID-19 pandemic on business, employment and productivity.
A total of 18 economic sectors, including export-oriented industries; small, medium and cottage industries, agriculture, fish farming, poultry and livestock were brought under these incentive packages.
This year, many farmers in the haor areas of Sunamganj's Jagannathpur upazila have still not been able to prepare boro paddy seedbeds due to "water stagnation in their farmlands".
In Nalua Haor, the largest among the swamps, farmers say they are facing real difficulties in draining out the water from their fields mainly because of a blockade at the Bhurakhali sluice gate by fish cultivators.
This blockade, the farmers say, has been posing as the biggest hurdle for them to prepare the seedbeds for cultivating Boro paddy this winter for summer harvest. Seedbed finishing is the final step in soil preparation for sowing crops.
"This year, boro crop cultivation has been hit as the tenants of Hamhami Jalmahal have blocked the waterway with bamboos and nets for fishing," says Mia, a farmer from Bhurakhali village.
Another farmer, Nagendra Das, a resident of Dasnowagaon village, claims that waterlogging has rendered his 1.2 acres of land in the haor uncultivable. Despite several complaints, he alleges, authorities are yet to redress their problems.
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"Cultivation this year has been disrupted due to the non-discharge of water from farmlands," says Randhir Das, a member of the local union council.
When contacted, Jagannathpur Upazila Agriculture Officer Shawkat Osman Majumder admitted that he was apprised of the problems by the local farmers.
“Some 6,500 hectares of land are cultivated in Nalua Haor every year. Anyway, I have asked the lessees to remove the dam as soon as I got the news of the disruption. If the lessees do not remove the dam, we will take legal action," he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent suspension of export and import for several months caused a 2 percent drop in the number of ships docking at Chattogram Port in 2020 compared to the previous calendar of 2019.
The number of ships dropping anchor in the Chattogram Port was 3,807 in 2019, but came down to 3,728 in 2020, according to the Chattogram Port Authority.
“The export-import declined last year due to corona. A total of 28,39,977 TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers were handled in 2020, whereas the number was 30,88,187 containers in 2019,” said Director (Traffic) of Chattogram Seaport Enamul Karim.
However, the country’s largest seaport had managed to keep up 3.4 percent growth in terms of loading and unloading of container ships in the last fiscal that ended in June 2020, though the outbreak of Covid-19 started in the country in March.
There was lockdown in the country throughout April and May and almost all work remained halted. So a smaller number of ships anchored in the port as the import of goods declined, said Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority Omar Faruk
“Despite of it, the growth of handling goods was 3.4 percent in the 2019-20 fiscal year,” he told UNB, adding that some 10.16 crore tonnes (exactly 10,15,65,272) of goods were handed in the port in the 2019-20 fiscal year, but the amount was some 9.82 crore tonnes (precisely 9,82,40,655) of goods in 2018-19 fiscal year.
Besides, the seaport faced different problems last year, including severe backlog of containers caused by slow delivery, congestion of ships in the outer anchorage and evacuation of jetties due to the threat of cyclones.
Some 98 percent of sea containers (goods) is transported through Chattogram seaport to and from the country. Some 12 jetties are used in the loading and unloading process of the ships.
On average 20-30 ships every day are waiting in the outer harbor for anchoring in the jetties during the normal time, but only 8 to 10 ships can be unloaded each day.
Earlier, the Chattogram seaport was on the verge of dropping out of the list of the world’s "three millionaire ports", i.e. those that handle 3 million TEU containers annually, due to decline in the country’s import and export through sea amid the Covid-19 pandemic, said Enamul Karim. There are 60 such ports in the world.
The final figures for the year show the port has indeed failed to reach the 3 million mark in 2020, having handled just over 2.8 million such containers.
Convenor of the port users’ forum and president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mahbubul Alam said the severity of Covid-19 is still high in the European countries, which are major markets of Bangladeshi products. Even lockdown has been enforced again in many European countries, which badly affects the container handling of the Chattogram port.
The Chattogram Port is the 64th busiest container port among 100 top ports across the world, according to the 2019 edition of Lloyd’s List of One Hundred Ports.
A resident of Badaghat village in Sunamganj's Tahirpur upazila, Fazlu Mia has always been fascinated by birds and the idea of entrepreneurship.
In 2019, Fazlu, then a small-time tea seller, liquidated almost all his savings to buy a pair of pigeons of local variety for Tk 800. And soon this humble villager turned his hobby into a full-fledged business -- that of pigeon rearing.
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"On an average, I spend Tk 5,000-6,000 a month on pigeons, that's on food and medicines, and earn a profit of Tk 25,000-30,000 per mensem by selling the birds," Fazlu says.
The 30-year-old does not have any formal education, and that's why he started selling tea at Badaghat Bazar. "I used to toil day and night to ensure two square meals a day for my family. Now, I am a successful entrepreneur," he says.
Fazlu owns a small pigeon farm on the premises of his home, big enough to house 100 pairs of 15-20 different species, including Homer, Red Siraji, Giribaj, Moyurponkhi and China. "My wife is also actively involved in our business," Fazlu says.
Every day, people from different parts of the district flock to Fazlu's farm to purchase pigeons. "These birds are prone to viruses and contagious diseases. So, they need a very clean environment and we ensure that in our farm," he says.
Recently, Fazlu also took a loan of Tk 1 lakh from a local NGO, ‘Asha’, to expand his pigeon farm. He dreams of owning a large-scale business. "The government must take necessary steps to ensure hassle-free loans for entrepreneurs like us," he says.
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Fazlu is admired by many in the village. “He is a bird lover and inspiration for youths in the village," says Mohammad Shah Alam, a local doctor.
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