While many people are losing their jobs and works amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a young man of Boalkhali upazila of Chattogram has set an example by farming papaya without wasting time during the lockdown.
Md. Azim, son of Amir Hossain of Sreepur-Kharandwip union of the upazila, is a government employee by profession but gardening is his hobby.
When the government announced the general holiday last March, the young man tried to utilize the time instead of wasting it sitting at home like others.
Three months ago, Azim started growing papaya on abandoned 10 decimal land along the Kanungopara-Sreepur Bura Mosque road in Aklia mouza of Popadia union of the upazila.
Apart from papaw, he also planted various vegetables and varieties of lemon, banana, guava and mango in the garden.
Azim said that he planted hundreds of high yielding papaw saplings in the land.
He has harvested over one maund (around 38 kg) papaw from each tree.
And with these crops produced in his garden, he is meeting the needs of the family after selling them in local markets.
“I have also distributed other vegetables among the relatives and neighbors. There is a kind of satisfaction in it,” he said.
He said that with the help of the government, he would start papaya fields on a larger scale in the future.
Azim said that he is expecting that there will be 100 maunds, or 400 kg of papaws from his crop.
Having started with Tk 11,000 investment, he is now eying for Tk 1 lakh from papaw cultivation, said Azim, adding that there will also be income from other vegetables and fruits.
Shahadat, a resident of the area, said that though the educated youth Azim works in the government office, he is producing vegetables in the village. Seeing Azim's papaw cultivation, many people in the area are now showing interest in cultivating papaw on arable land.
Upazila Deputy Assistant Agriculture Officer Durgapad Dev said there are no problems in the papaw orchard except spiders and fungi attacks. If weather remains favourable, it is possible to make profit by cultivating nutritious papaw.
As it looks unlikely that coronavirus will disappear until there is a vaccine, experts have warned that the deadly virus may hit Bangladesh even harder in the coming winter.
They fear that people may become very susceptible to coronavirus like other respiratory viruses and flu-like diseases during the winter due to low humidity, less sunlight, mild vitamin D deficiency and impaired immunity.
They, however, think the actual spread may depend on human intervention and bulwarks such as strict enforcement of universal masking, physical distancing, improved hand hygiene and increased testing and isolation.
Some recent studies conducted in different countries, including India, the UK and Australia, also claim that the virus may rise in winter dampening the outlook for a return to a normal life.
A team of researchers from India’s two universities--IIT-Bhubaneswar and AIIMS--recently warned their policymakers against the increase in transmission of Covid-19 during the peak of monsoon and winter across the country.
Based on their research which has not been peer reviewed yet, they said monsoon rainfall and cooling of the atmosphere coupled with progression towards winter may environmentally favour coronavirus transmission in India.
According to a modelling study by India’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), their country may see 2.87 lakh COVID-19 cases per day by the end of next winter.
Researchers from the Banaras Hindu University and Central University of Rajasthan, India, stated in their study that there can be an increase in the spread of coronavirus during the winter season.
A modelling study of the Academy of Medical Sciences in the United Kingdom has also suggested that the number of Covid-19-related hospital deaths during winter --between September 2020 and June 2021--in the UK could be as high as 119,900, the academy with a new wave of the virus.
A research in Australia’s Sydney University suggests a 1 percent fall in humidity could increase the number of infections by 6 percent. It also said only lower humidity was associated with an increase in Covid-19 cases, not temperature.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggest that Britain, Central Asia, the Caucuses, Eastern and Central Europe, northern and midwestern US, and British Columbia in Canada are at greater risk of community transmission in the winter.
Talking to UNB, Prof Nazrul Islam, former Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said the way the coronavirus transmission is going on it can be assumed that the virus will prevail during the winter.
“I fear the situation may deteriorate in winter as people at that time used to suffer many other respiratory viruses and flu-like diseases,” he said.
He said cold temperatures and low humidity is likely to help coronavirus live longer while vitamin D deficiency and weakened immunity may help the coronavirus take a heavy toll on human health.
Prof Nazrul Islam, also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC), the mortality rate also may go up as corona may get stronger with influenza and pneumonia, asthma and other cold-related diseases during the winter.
He said elderly people and children will be the most vulnerable to the deadly virus in cold weather.
“We need to intensify our efforts to contain the virus as early as possible through effective programmes. We should conduct at least 25,000 sample tests every day and identify the hidden cases and put them in isolation to slow the transmission. People also need to cooperate with the government by maintaining health hygiene rules to get rid of the virus,” Prof Nazrul said.
Prof Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS said though many experts said corona has no relation with the weather, it has a correlation with the season.
“The symports of corona are similar to cold-related diseases. It’s basically a disease of winter, it has many strains which are capable to survive during any season like summer and rainy ones. At the early stage, some experts thought the virus may become weaker during the summer, but they proved wrong since virus infections increase sharply during hot weather,” he observed.
Dr Be-Nazir there are many viruses which cannot outbreak like a pandemic, but corona is a different type of virus with various strains.
He said there are some strains of coronavirus that may become acute and deadly during the winter. “So, we should now work out plans so that we can tackle the virus effectively during the cold weather.”
Echoing Prof Nazrul, Be-Nazir said elderly people and those who have a chronic respiratory problem could be the worst victim of the virus during cold weather.
He said the government should enforce lockdown in red zones and identify the infected people and isolate them from others to slow the virus spread.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the IEDCR, said though it is not yet proved that coronavirus has any relation with the weather, it can be assumed that the survival time of virus may increase during cold weather.
“Many people in Bangladesh suffer from common cold problems caused by four other coronaviruses rather than Covid-19, but those are self-preventive viruses. So, if the Covid-19 and other coronavirus affect people together during the winter the situation may deteriorate sharply. Though this is only an assumption, we should remain alert,” he said.
Alamgir said without people’s awareness and cooperation, the country will not get rid of the dangerous pandemic. “Our people should need to understand it that we need to lead a very controlled life for at least six months more to contain the virus. People must be very careful during winter so that they don’t catch cold and corona.”
Although just over two months have now passed since Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the south-western coastal areas of the country, the residents of Koyra upazila who evacuated their homes as the storm approached still find themselves unable to return.
The purpose-built cyclone shelters or other buildings and structures that form part of the area’s public infrastructure and double up as shelters during emergencies, to which the residents of Koya were moved alongside millions of others have become their homes effectively, though there is nothing homely about them.
It is the ultimate nightmare for any sensible person who heeds the Met Department’s warnings in the face of an approaching cyclone and heads to the shelters, that once the storm passes, they would go back to find their residences destroyed. The plight of the Koyra residents post-Amphan has not been dissimilar.
Imtiaz Uddin Ahmed, general secretary of Koyra Development Coordination Committee, a citizens’ platform, said “Several kilometres of the river protection embankment of the upazila have been washed away by the storm. The situation of the Amphan-hit area has not improved till now, so people who took shelter in different roads and shelter homes have been unable to make their way back even.”
Executive Engineer of Khulna Water Development Board (Satkhira-2) Md Arifuzzaman said some 40 kilometres of the flood protection embankment was destroyed, across 21 points. The tidal surge accompanying the strong winds of Amphan ended up flooding 80 percent of the upazila.
It was a disaster waiting to happen, as the structure was weak and vulnerable along several points. When it happened to be in the path of a cyclone, it stood no chance. Residents had been trying to draw the attention of the authorities for months.
In February, UNB reported how residents of 5 unions in the upazila were warning that the flood control embankment in their area was “on the verge of collapse.” They even provided specifics, voicing particular concern over a 21-km stretch of the embankment between polder numbers 13-14/1 and 13-14/2, along the Kopotakkho and Shakbaria rivers, as particularly vulnerable. In the event, when Amphan struck, they were proved right in the most cruel manner.
It was no surprise then that some residents, in the aftermath of Amphan decided to strike out on their own and started work to repair the embankment themselves. But they could only go so far.
Many people have taken shelter on the dyke or roads but they have endured unspeakable suffering. Everywhere they look they are cut off by water and they are passing their days like prisoners.
Needless to say, they are also suffering from lack of access to pure drinking water and sanitation, but as long as their own homes remain off limits the situation offers little hope. Add to that the lack of adequate food.
They are now counting their days till they can get back their houses.
Anwarul Islam, who took shelter at Dakkhin Bedkeshi cyclone center, said “I could not go back to our home after two months of the cyclone Amphan as me along with my family are living at Harinkhola Government Primary School-cum cyclone centre. Like my family some 52 families and 150 people are now living there. At first, there were 300 people but most of them left the place after making makeshift houses on the road.”
Anwarul is from the village of Ghatakhali in Koyra upazila where many parts of the river protection dam along Kopotakkho River got damaged. “Since then with the rise and fall of tidal waters, my area is flooded twice daily.”
Shahanur, another resident of the upazila, said “I just about managed to build a tent on the road (of Water and Power Development Authority). We are suffering from lack of pure drinking water as salinity has intruded everywhere.”
Khokon, another victim, who also took shelter in a dyke, said “We go through a lot of problems during rains.” Beside him was Jarina, who raised her voice to speak up on the inadequacy of the relief provided by the government.
“We are going through a food crisis. We hardly survive by the relief food getting from some people at times,” she said.
MM Saiful Islam, a construction worker by profession, who also has taken shelter on the road, said “I left home two months ago and still I could not return as it is submerged by the river water.”
He also demanded construction of a sustainable and long-lasting dam in the upazila.
SM Shafiqul Islam, chairman of Koyra upazila, said 34 families have taken shelter in Harinkhola, 40 families in Bedkashi Collegiate School, 200-250 families on road stretching from at Kashirhatkhola to Hajatkhali area and 10-12 families on Koyra sluice gate area.
They will not be able to return home until the embankment is repaired, he said.
Accelerating infrastructural development, ensuring utility services and upgrading education and medical services in rural areas may help engage the large number of people returning to their villages losing the sources of their income in the wake of COVID-19 fallout.
"You’ll have to ensure better communication system; gas and electricity supply, and education and medical facilities in rural areas to attract the private sector. The returnees from urban areas will also feel encouraged to involve in the rural economy if that happen," former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam told UNB.
He said there is no sign in sight yet that the economy ‘will reach its peak’ in near future. “So, he suggested creating more jobs in rural areas to absorb the extra pressure mounted by the returnees from urban areas. The government should focus on that."
Mirza Aziz mentioned that the rural economy is already overburdened with surplus workers and the new ones will only worsen the situation. "Now creating jobs for them is not an easy task."
Dr Aziz, who was also the chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), said the government should go for such activities which will be considered as productive. "Rural road renovation, repairing, maintenance and infrastructural development might absorb some workers," he said.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said there will be some jobs in rural areas if the agricultural stimulus package can be utilised properly.
Renovation, development and maintenance of rural infrastructures can be useful, he said adding, "We could utilise a good number of those who returned to their villages during this pandemic."
Prof Mustafiz said if the government-sponsored credit programmes can be implemented quickly those will help create jobs.
He put emphasis on providing financial assistance to non-government organisations which are contributing to various pockets of the rural economy. "If they get government help then they could absorb a good number of returnees."
Prof Mustafiz mentioned that the government so far did not pay attention to this sector. It will supplement government's effort to implement the SDG's 'leave no one behind' goal if it can do that.
Talking about the role of private sector in generating jobs in rural areas, he said if loans are provided properly for poultry, fisheries and livestock then there will be no job cut in this sector as it would create more employment opportunities instead. "The government has to play the role of felicitator in this connection."
Chairperson of Unnayan Onneshan Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, also a Dhaka University professor, also stressed the need for job retention and job creation through giving fiscal facilities.
"There should be mission-oriented rural rejuvenation scheme targeting the youth. There’ll be retraining and re-skilling programmes while introducing them with the banks who want to be self-employed. That means a comprehensive rural rejuvenation scheme should be taken," he said.
He also said those who cannot afford to engage in any work due to their age should be brought under universal social protection.
In its recent survey, Brac said the lockdown and social-distancing measures announced to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced 95 percent people across the country to suffer a loss in their income.
A total of 2,317 respondents -- 68 percent from rural areas and 32 percent from urban ones -- from different socio-economic backgrounds in 64 districts joined the survey conducted from 9 to 13 May, 2020.
The farmers of Sharankhola upazila of Bagerhat district have become frustrated with the increased salinity affecting their crop lands since Cyclone Amphan ripped through the country on May 20, leaving a vast tract of land unfit for cultivation.
The rise in sea levels associated with climate change meant creeping salinity over time was already known to be a long-term problem for farming croplands in the coastal districts. Extreme events such as cyclones that may not cause many human casualties can still leave behind lasting damage as they cause tidal surges in those areas, acting to cause spikes in salinity.
The saline water from the Bay has entered into the crop lands and fields of the upazila due to the collapse of the ring embankment along Baleshwar River during the cyclonic storm Amphan, creating waterlogged situations in many areas. Though the local administration has taken initiative to pump out the saline water, a lot of the salinity is embedded in the soil, leading to a long-term damage and decrease of soil quality.
According to the sources of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), if the salinity stays for a long period of time inside the ground, the nature of biodiversity and crops might be damaged and there will be a risk of damage of soil.
According to the DAE, Aman paddy and rabi-crops can tolerate salinity up to 6-7 Electrical conductivity (EC) decicimen/m but the authorities concerned have found 35-36 decicimen/m on the lands of the upazila due to the amphan. The salinity can be reduced through the rain water, they said.
Talking to local farmers, they said most of the lands in the upazila have been brought under Aman paddy and Rabi-crops cultivation in a year due to absence of fresh water and now farmers are busy with aman seedbeds.
Farmers fear that due to excess salinity, the production of crops including aman paddy, rabi-crops and vegetables will be affected. They also demanded cooperation of the government so that they can recoup their losses, caused by the amphan.
Harun Hawladar, a farmer of Bogi village in the upazila said “One acre land of mine has been submerged due to the collapse of the embankment on the night of Cyclone Amphan and saline has developed on my land gradually. I used to cultivate paddy in that land which is now turned into saline land. Now I’m worried about how many years I will be able to produce crops on the land.”
Anwar Hossain, another farmer of Chaltebunia village, said “I have four bighas of land and it is the source of the livelihood of my six-member family. As saline water entered into my land during cyclone Amphan it turned into saline land.”
He also feared that it is not possible to grow any crop on the land.
Nazrul Islam, a village doctor said most of the people of the upazila are depend on cultivation and the soil of many lands have lose its fertility due to saline water.
Mohammad Mamunur Rashid, deputy commissioner of Bagerhat District, said “There is a possibility of facing some problems due to the salt water that got stuck on the croplands. The local administration is trying to remove salinity from soil.”
In order to compensate for the loss, discussions have been held with the Department of Agriculture Extension for the cultivation of salt tolerant crops on the lands, he said.
Raghunath Kor, deputy director of Bagerhat DAE, said “Saline water has entered into the crops lands in Sharankhola, Morelganj and Mongla upazilas of the district. The production of crops may be hampered due to excessive salinity in the lands. It is a long-term damage. Strategies have been taken to recoup losses by cultivating salt tolerant crops.”
He also asked farmers to cultivate the salt-tolerant ‘73’ variety paddy on their lands.
According to the DAE, there are 1,39,958 hectares of cultivated land and salt water has entered on 500 hectares of land in Sharankhola, Mongla, Morelganj and Sadar upazilas of Bagerhat, damaging 1,510 hectares of Aush paddy, banana, betel leaf and vegetables during the cyclonic storm Amphan, which made a landfall in the coastal districts of the country on May 20.
Some 67,431 farmers involved with cultivation have been affected by the cyclonic storm.