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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2793

Dhaka suppresses fact

By Sunita Paul

Despite the fact that Bangladesh is under acute food shortage and a number of reports evidently prove that silent famine has already breaking in various parts of the country, an advisor to the military backed interim government in Dhaka declines to accept the fact of famine, rather he said that the country is experiencing 'Hidden Hunger.

While talking to the media, advisor AMM Shawkat Ali admitted that the country was exposed to a 'hidden hunger,' but claimed the prevailing food shortage could not be labeled as 'silent famine.'

However, people in the world can easily assume from the suppressed confession by the advisor that in Bangladesh people are suffering from food crisis and by now there are a number of reports of death in the Capital and other rural parts of the country, due to lack of food supply.

In the meantime, reports from Dhaka says that price of coarse rice increased further in the city markets on Thursday as a sudden rise in demand from retailers put pressures on supply sources and fuelled wholesale price hike, market sources said.

Market sources said Thursday's hike was continuation of the trend seen for a couple of days since the news of Indian ban on rice export triggered panic buying in retail market. Consumers flocked the retail shops asking for more quantity of rice than usual in their bid to buy as much rice as they could fearing that price of the staple would go up further. That caused extra pressures to supply sources, exhausting stocks in many wholesale outlets, traders said.

Meanwhile, being failed to resolve the food crisis, the military backed interim government in Dhaka are now using various law enforcing agencies in putting pressure on poor people from not exposing such crisis to media and international community. According to another report, at least 13 people were injured when the police charged batons on Thursday on the poor people who gathered at a rural area named Kalkond to collect rice under Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) scheme. The police also picked five people from the scene.

Witnesses said VGF card-holders agitated as distribution of rice was delayed due to absence of relief officer Asheque Ali.

At one stage, the police resorted to baton-charge leaving 13 people injured. Saiful, Noor Islam and Bania Das were among those who were seriously injured. They were arrested along with two others. The government has sent secret signals to all major law enforcing agencies to exercise maximum pressure on people in not exposing the state of severe food crisis and death due to present famine in Bangladesh.

Dhaka has also endorsed the fact that there is severe shortage of electricity in the country and the government fails to give any specific time frame as to when such situation may get resolved. Rather statements from various influential people in the government shows that the situation is not going to even addressed at minimal level in next several months. The government is continuing to put blame on previous governments for failing in establishing more power generation projects in the country in order to increase supply of electricity. But, it has failed to justify as to why there had not been even a single project implemented during past fifteen months of the tenure of the second-phase interim government in Bangladesh. According to official statistics, Bangladesh is now generating between 3,300 and 3,400 megawatts of power against a demand for 4,500 MWs.

But when attention of the government was drawn to the official websites of Power Development Board (PDB) and Petrobangla where power-production shortage was shown at 728MW and gas shortfall at 211 million cubic feet (mmcfd), the Special Assistant to the Chief Adviser on Power and Energy M Tamim said the gas and power crises in Chittagong (Coastal District in the country) were not included in his statement.

"Chittagong zone alone is facing a 420MW power shortage due to the shortage of gas."

He asked the people to keep shut half of their air-conditioners and the industrial consumers to switch off their operation during peak hours or use captive power to make do with the short supply.

Tamim also urged the household consumers to refrain from irrational use of gas in view of the national exigencies.

He said the present government has already added 100MW of electricity to the national grid and would add another 1000MW by the end of the year. "We'll sign agreements for another 1000MW for the next government."

In an editorial, Dhaka's leading English language daily newspaper The Daily Star said, "We are not into the summer yet, but the old problem is back to cause us misery again. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the people to bear with load-shedding, the situation made worse for the students who are taking the SSC exams. And the problem is not restricted to the capital only but has also affected almost the entire country.

"We were given to understand that the present government had planned to deal with the shortfall and manage the deficit by adding to the current level of electricity generation, and implementing appropriate measures to make the shortage bearable. It appears from reports that it has not been the case. Providing villages with electricity between 12 midnight and 8 in the morning makes little sense at this moment. One wonders what a farming household will do with it except to run the irrigation pumps - which in any case is not required just at this moment. It all goes to show the poor planning in managing the shortage of electricity.

"We are aware that not a single megawatt of electricity was added to the grid during the tenure of the last regime. And our requirement for it increases by the day. But one feels that there should be a method in the load-shedding to allow people from various walks of life to plan their routine accordingly. As for Dhaka metropolitan area we were given the assurance not long ago by very responsible officials of DESA that it would follow a routine, and localities would be informed in advance of the timings when they would be without electricity. That has not been the case either.

"Not only are mills and factories affected by it, most households also had to do without drinking water due to water pumps made dysfunctional on account of prolonged periods of power outage."

With growing power shortage, Bangladesh is in reality facing severe famine, which may cause lives of numerous people in the months to come, if supply of food is not resolved immediately. International community needs to pay attention to the fact urgently in order to save lives of people of one of the poorest nations in the world.

Moreover, adequate pressure should be put on the military backed interim government in Dhaka to do everything in restoring democratic system, which possibly it is trying to skip with numerous excuses. Violation of Human Rights and repression of press is becoming very common in the country since political changes on January 12, 2007. There is even bad news of re-organizing of militant Islamist forces within the country with direct patronization of international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. I shall write on this topic in my next dispatch.

Sunita Paul is an expert on South Asian affairs.

- Asian Tribune -

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