With sand covering hundreds of acres of arable land since the recent floods in Kurigram, farmers say surviving the coming months will be very tough if the government does not do anything.
Aacording to Department of Agricultural Extension, Kurigram, some 17,000 hectares were damaged by the prolonged floods affecting about 135,000 farmers. Officially, the amount of loss in agriculture is Tk 140 crore.
Affected farmers claimed that at least 1,000 hectares of arable land has been covered by sand. At Sardob village, sand accumulated on vast swathes of land after an alternative dam broke in mid-July.
Farmer Delwar Hossain, a resident of Char Sardob of sadar upazila, said that his three-bigha plot became uncultivable after the floodwater receded as sand accumulated on his land.
“I planned to plant aman this time like previous years after the floodwaters receded,” he said. “But the land was uncultivable.”
Delwar said he was worried about the coming months when his family may have to starve.
The sand has also damaged the existing crops, inflicting financial losses on the farmers.
Lutfar Rahman, a farmer from Holokhana village, said that they had a good production of Aman last year. “We fear that nothing can be grown on these lands for the next few years,” he said.
Affected farmers plan to go for crops like sweet pumpkin, sweet potato and maize suitable for cultivation in sandy lands but they lack capital.
Rabia Begum, a sharecropper, said plenty of irrigation is needed to grow crops in the land filled with sand and their current financial conditions make it impossible for them to bear the cost.
Initially, the coronavirus pandemic took away work but then came the floods which damaged the crop, land and houses, forcing people to spend their savings.
In the post-flood period, 1,200 farmers have been given seeds and fertilisers to cultivate maskalai variety of lentil on one bigha of land.
Besides, about 7,000 farmers have been given Aman saplings while 10,000 received vegetable seeds, but no allocation has been made for cultivating crops on lands filled by sand.
Sadar Upazila Agriculture Officer Mohammad Zakir Hossain said they had informed the authorities about the situation. “If any allocation is made, we’ll distribute it among the affected farmers,” he said.
The government’s positive signal to extend the suspension of Khaleda Zia’s sentences for another six months has surely brought some sort of relief for her party rank and file, but political analysts think such conditional release is unlikely to help BNP gain any political mileage since she will virtually remain under ‘house arrest’.
This move, they said, has sent out a positive message in politics on one hand and brightened the government’s image on the other but it has exposed BNP’s 'political bankruptcy and extreme failure since it could not exert any pressure to free its chairperson over the last two and a half years'.
The political observers said some factors, including the prevailing corona situation, keeping politics normal, creating positive impression among people, not flouting previous conditions by Khaleda, her poor health condition and family members’ positive gesture may prompt the government to positively consider extending the temporary release of the BNP chief.
They are, however, sceptical about Khaleda’s political future or her return to politics.
Some party leaders also said the BNP chief is losing interest in politics due to her falling health and bleak political future.
As the six-month suspension of her sentences in two graft cases expires on September 24, Khaleda Zia's younger brother Shamim Iskander submitted an application to the government on August 25 for its extension.
On September 3, the Law Ministry gave its positive opinion for extending the suspension Khaleda’s sentences for six months more based on two conditions-- receiving treatment staying at her Gulshan residence and not leaving the country.
On March 25 last, the 76-year-old BNP chief was released from jail for six months upon an executive order.
Contacted, political analyst and Jahangirnagar University’s International Relations department's professor Tarek Shamsur Rahman said the government has shown a good gesture by taking the step to enhance Khaleda’s temporarily release.
“I think, the government is going to allow Khaleda remaining out of jail as she's losing her political capability due to her age and health condition. On the other hand, this move will create a good impression among people about the government,” he said.
Dr Tarek said an understanding between the government and BNP is now necessary to effectively deal with the corona pandemic, its fallouts, revive the economy and reduce unemployment. “The government’s decision regarding Khaleda can open the door for such an understanding. The government can even free Khaleda without condition since she has no political future due to her fragile health condition.”
He said BNP will not be politically benefited from this decision. “Khaleda Zia also won’t be benefited much from it except staying in a homely environment. She’ll remain almost under house arrest”
The political analyst said Khaleda Zia’s family has to depend on the compassion of the Prime Minister for her release since BNP has miserably failed to mount any pressure on the government to free her. “It’s exposed BNP’s bankruptcy. The party is suffering from a leadership crisis and right decisions.”
He said BNP needs a young and charismatic leader to guide the party and take it forward. “Tarique Rahman and BNP’s current standing committee are failing to revive the party. They need a change in leadership. I think, Tarique’s daughter Zaima Rahman can now lead the party and strengthen it rejuvenating its young forces.”
Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan) General Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said as per media reports BNP chief’s release will be extended based on some conditions. “But we don’t know whether there is any secret understanding between the government and Khaleda Zia’s family.”
“Khaleda Zia needs treatment and she can’t do politics now. So, if she can’t go abroad for necessary treatment, what is the use of her release except staying in a homely environment?” he observed.
Majumdar said BNP should now give high priority to the advance treatment of Khaleda and reach an understating with the government for such an arrangement.
BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Choudhury said their party chief now needs advance treatment either at home or abroad, but the government is imposing a condition so that she cannot leave the country. “There shouldn’t be any condition regarding the treatment. She won’t go abroad if her treatment is possible in the country. But one’s right to receive better treatment should not be restricted,” he said.
About a minister’s comment that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown her unprecedented generosity to extend Khaleda Zia’s sentences for six more months, Khonsu said it is not a matter of anybody’s compassion as their chairperson has the constitutional right to receive treatment as she is sick.
Asked whether it is not their party’s failure that it could not create any pressure on the government to free Khaleda over a long time, Khosru parried the question.
The blossoming of tri-coloured lotus in a beel (a lake-like wetland with static water) in Cumilla’s Burichong upazila is drawing hundreds of visitors every day.
Dakhshin village is now the centre of attention with lotus flowers spread on at least 10 acres, locals said.
The beel is dotted with blue, white and yellow lotus.
Locals say this is the only place in Bangladesh where the tri-coloured lotus blooms.
The blue sky of Autumn and the wetland adorned with lotus have created a heavenly and breathtaking site which is drawing a large number of tourists, giving locals an opportunity to earn some extra cash.
Rows of boats are kept tied to the side of the beel waiting for tourists. Many people come here with their families to enjoy the view.
The beel has various species of birds too. Dahuk, Saros, Balihas, among others, have come to the beel in search of food.
Md Shahin, a local UP member, said that a group of researchers from Dhaka University came here a few days ago to see lotus flower.
The lotus blossoming in this beel is quite large. “The first three-colored lotus in Bangladesh under threat due to lack of maintenance,” he said.
Cumilla Deputy Commissioner Md Abul Fazal Mir said a group of researchers from Dhaka University came to Padma Beel. They said that these lotus are seen in America.
He assured that the district administration would take appropriate steps to preserve the beel.
The entire world is still going through an unprecedented time and consequences of COVID-19, with the reopening of businesses and living with the ‘new normal’ bringing several changes to lives and livelihoods in comparison to the pre-lockdown era.
Still, some businesses are yet to fully reopen around the world such as movie theatres or cinema halls, and this industry in Bangladesh has been eagerly waiting for the reopening.
The question of ‘survival’ has never loomed with this much intensity in the timeline of Bangladesh cinema industry, as the people in this country are generally known as the movie-loving, ‘filmy’ people. Movies have always been an integral part of their lives, and theatres have been one of the major recreational places for families.
Fast forward in 2020, Bangladesh now has approximately 194 cinema halls and cineplexes still operating, from having approximately 1,200 cinema halls all over the country in the decades between the 1990s to 2010.
Country’s first international standard multiplex chain Star Cineplex has recently announced shutting down of its successful debut branch in Bashundhara City in the capital, and major cinema halls including Purnima, Rajmoni and Ovishar have already been closed while other vintage halls like Balaka, Modhumita and more have been suffering losses for ages.
Outside of Dhaka, the scenario for this business has been horrific, even before the arrival of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. As the pandemic started impacting lives and livelihood all over the country, that became a nightmare for the industry.
Now with the lockdown and other restrictions imposed to deal with the virus officially lifted, the cinema hall owners and the entire film industry are hopeful again for a resurgence, after the government announced specific plans for the revival of the movie-business.
On August 25, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) Chairperson and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the authorities concerned to create a special fund to provide financial support to the owners of cinema halls through a big project, in order to revive their business through grants and loans. The directive came as many movie houses have been left abandoned or damaged across the country.
Two days later, Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud called a meeting with Film Producers-Distributors-Directors Association leaders at the secretariat and said that the government is monitoring the situation and will announce its decision on reopening the theatres after September 15.
“However, the big concern is whether the audience will consider coming to the movie theatres like before, during this ongoing situation. Bollywood is the second biggest movie industry in the world, yet the movie theatres have still not reopened in India. So the decision on reopening is depending on many facts altogether,” the minister said at the meeting.
Reassuring the industry representatives, the minister said that the Prime Minister is personally concerned about the situation and will take necessary steps for the overall betterment of the film industry and the cinema halls.
Read Also: The ‘Ray’ of Bengali cinema
Amid the fear of the COVID-19, the surviving cinema halls all over the country have been in lockdown mode since March 18 which has caused havoc in the cinema industry bringing catastrophic losses for producers, actors, directors, associated casts and crew members and most importantly, the cinema halls - where the audience see the movies.
That concept, however, has been rapidly changing for a long time with the availability of options to the viewers. It started with the mass-availability of cable tv connections which allowed the viewers to watch movies at home, outside of the theatre - and the practice increasingly continued with the availability of computer and mobile phones at the mass level.
The piracy of movies and availability on YouTube has also created major roadblocks in this industry, against which the industry-insiders and associates have been raising their voices for such a long time. Apparently that decreased to a consistent level, and new platforms like the Over The Top (OTT) media service that offers directly to viewers via the internet with bypassing cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, are now offering more control to the viewers to watch movies in their electronic devices, outside of the theatres.
To bring the audiences back to the cinema halls, a resurgence in the industry seemed visible in recent years. Piracy got reduced, multiplexes like Star-Blockbuster-Shyamoli started showing both local and international movies focusing audience demands which brought back the young generations, middle class and upper-class people back to the theatres - and a new generation of moviemakers started making more conceptualized and entertaining, big-budget movies to cater the urban audiences and reach the global market.
The positives, however, unfortunately, started taking the bumps simultaneously with the rising of COVID-19 ‘positives’ in Bangladesh. Major occasions like the Pahela Baishakh, Eid-Ul-Fitr, Eid-Ul-Adha in which the industry generally eyes big profit margins in the calendar year - have generated absolutely zero money because of COVID-19. The estimated loss during these occasions is around Tk 500 crore for the entire industry, according to the industry insiders.
Dhallywood superstar Shakib Khan’s ‘Bidrohi’ and ‘Nabab LLB’, Arifin Shuvoo starring action extravaganza ‘Mission Extreme’, Siam Ahmed starring action film ‘SHAAN’, Ananta Jalil’s Bangladesh-Iran joint venture ‘Deen - The Day’, Tollywood star Dev starring Bangladeshi spy thriller film ‘Commando’, noted television director Masud Hasan Ujjal directed ‘Unoponchash Batash’ and Chayanika Chowdhury directed ‘Bishwo-Shundori’ were some of the big-budgeted and much-anticipated movies scheduled to be released before the lockdown, that were pushed back.
“We are very much thankful to our Prime Minister for taking the necessary steps to save our cinema and the halls. The crisis situation is frustrating for everyone associated with the film industry. The audience will come back again if the continuous flow of both local and international new movie releases can be ensured, and the halls must have to operate following the COVID-19 health guidelines. We are waiting to embrace the resurgence in the industry,” Bangladesh Film Producers-Distributors Association President Khorshed Alam Khosru said in a statement on the present scenario.
As many countries and companies are racing to develop vaccines to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, experts said Bangladesh needs to make ‘vaccine diplomacy’ a part of its strategy to get one fast once it is ready.
In the context of polarised world politics, they said, Bangladesh should deal with both China and India smartly with an ‘open to all policy’ alongside maintaining the contact with all the potential vaccine-producing countries to be among the first to procure an effective vaccine.
The experts, however, think it will still be too premature to make any final procurement deal with any potential vaccine-producing country right now since it is not clear which vaccine may prove safe and effective on completion of its phase-III trial.
Contacted, Prof Dr Delwar Hossain of Dhaka University’s International Relations department said Bangladesh seems lagging behind in corona vaccine diplomacy for lack of proper planning, strategy and initiative.
“We need smart diplomacy with proper planning and strategy to have enough doses of corona vaccine from the successful candidate in due time,” he said.
The DU professor said it will be difficult to have a vaccine only relying on bilateral relations with a few countries as internal politics and political economy are involved with it.
“Economic diplomacy is also very important here. Having a large size of population, Bangladesh is surely a big market for the vaccine producers which can be used as a bargaining tool during the negotiation,” he pointed out.
Delwar said two friendly countries -- China and India -- have already assured Bangladesh of giving priority in providing their vaccines due to their geopolitical interests. “We’ve already accepted China’s offer for the trial of its vaccine. We should also positively respond to India’s proposal. We should also look for options to join the trial of other vaccine candidates to create a scope to get it on a priority basis.”
He, however, doubted about getting enough doses of any vaccine from sources like China and India as these countries have huge internal demand due to their very big population size. “So, we should keep it in mind the vaccine diplomacy. We need to focus on getting permission for manufacturing any vaccine in our country to ensure its availability here in due time.”
Since it is not sure which vaccine will finally come out as an effective one, Delwar said Bangladesh should maintain contract with all the potential vaccine-producing countries and reach an understanding for getting their vaccines once those are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We must carefully monitor the development around the world regarding vaccines. We should have diversified sources. We’ll have to keep all the channels open. We’ll remain open to all. But before striking any written deal, we must remain very alert so that our money is not wasted and our national interest is not harmed in any way,” he advised.
As a developing country, Delwar said, Bangladesh should also make stronger efforts to have a vaccine with the help of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (Gavi), UNICEF, WHO, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), PAHO, World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser to WHO South-East Asia region, said China, India, the UK, the USA and Russia are now the most potential vaccine-producing countries. “We should keep in touch with them all.”
Besides, he said, the government needs to have constant contact with Gavi or international bodies to have promised vaccine doses from them on the principle of equitable distribution.
Contacted, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the government has been working actively and sincerely to get an effective vaccine when it will be available. “We’re contacting multiple sources instead of depending on any particular one to have the sufficient doses of a vaccine at the right time.”
He said Bangladesh sent an application to Gavi in July last through the WHO to avail of COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for lower- and middle-income countries. “Our application has been accepted."
Besides, he said, they have already allowed the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) to run phase-III trial of China’s Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine in Bangladesh.
“The trial of Sinovac’s vaccine will begin within a few days. Initially, the trial will be conducted on volunteers, mainly doctors and nurses of six-seven hospitals. “As we’re participating in the trial, we’ll get one lakh free doses of the vaccine primarily, and then we’ll get priority in procuring the vaccine. This vaccine can be available by January next,” the minister said.
He said Beximco Pharma signed a deal with India's Serum Institute to get priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines being developed by it.
Serum Institute has already partnered with Oxford/AstraZeneca along with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi to produce more than a billion doses of the vaccine for global supply. “We hope Beximco Pharma will privately get a good number of vaccine doses from India,” Zahid said.
He said they also officially sought vaccine cooperation from India and they got assurance in this regard.
The minister said they sent a letter to Russia to get its vaccine and the country gave a positive response. “The Russian government wants to go under a government-to-government process fixing the rate of the vaccine. They also may allow us to produce their vaccines in Bangladesh.”
He said a letter was also sent to US drug-maker Pfizer for having its vaccine when it will be available. “We hope they’ll give us the vaccine timely.”
About Oxford’s vaccine, Zahid said they will get it through India since the country has a partnership with AstraZeneca. “So, we won’t lag behind in providing vaccines to our people. We’re trying to get it from five to six sources. We’re even ready to procure necessary doses of vaccines, but we want an effective and harmless one at a fair price.”
He, however, said India has not yet come up with any offer to conduct the trial of their any vaccine in Bangladesh. “If we get any such proposal, we’ll decide it then.
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen said Dhaka intended to pick one potential vaccine that would be safer and most useful for Bangladesh while "our efforts are on to get access to a potential Covid vaccine."
"It (vaccine) could be from China, Russia, the USA or India . . . our discussion is underway with them all," he added.