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Posts Tagged ‘BANGLADESH’

Samir Uddin – Street hawker, Bangladesh

Posted by African Press International on July 21, 2013

Name: Samir Uddin

Age: 50

Location: Charpara village in Mymensing District

Does your spouse/partner live with you? Yes.

What is your primary job? Street hawker.

What is your monthly salary? My income was US$60 just two or three months ago. Now it’s around $55.  from $60

What is your household’s total income – including your partner’s salary, and any additional same sources ? I don’t have any other income. My wife doesn’t work.

How many people are living in your household – what is their relationship to you? Four – wife and two children.

How many are dependent on you/your partner’s income – what is their relationship to you? Four.

How much do you spend each month on food? It was about $50, but it has increased recently. Now I spend around $55.  from $50

What is your main staple – how much does it cost each month?Rice. It was $12 four months ago. Now it costs around $15.  from $12

How much do you spend on rent? Nothing. I own my own home.

How much on transport? It was $5, but it’s increased to $7.  from $5

How much do you spend on educating your children each month? My children don’t go to school. I can’t afford it.

After you have paid all your bills each month, how much is left?Nothing.

Have you or any member of the household been forced to skip meals or reduce portion sizes in the last three months? We aren’t skipping meals yet, but we have reduced portion sizes.

Have you been forced to borrow money (or food) in the last three months to cover basic household needs? In August, I borrowed $400. I can’t repay that loan and will likely need to borrow again.  

“Food prices continue rise every day. I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse if the political situation continues”
MYMENSING, June 2013  – Recent political instability in Bangladesh has worsened the plight of Samir Uddin, a 50-year-old street hawker, who was already struggling to get by. He lives with his wife and two children in the village of Charpara in Mymensing District, 120km north of the capital, Dhaka. His children do not go to school.“Because of the strikes, I can’t earn half the money I used to. When they occur, people simply don’t leave their homes unless there is an emergency. And if people don’t go out in the street, how can I sell them anything?” he asked.

He said that his income is decreasing, but expenses are increasing.

“Food prices continue rise every day. I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse if the political situation continues,” he said.

Efforts to secure another job over the last few months have also failed.

“It’s difficult to manage three meals a day on the money I earn. We have reduced the portions of food we normally eat, but may need to start skipping meals if it continues like this. Everything is more expensive. The transport cost has increased in just two or three months.”

Adding to his worries, he cannot repay a US$400 loan he took out earlier to pay for the family’s living expenses.

“Each day, the money lender is calling for his money, but how can I pay him when I can’t even manage my day-to-day expenses? There is nothing left after I pay them so I will likely need to borrow again.

“Either the government should control food prices or introduce a rationing system for the poor. Otherwise, we cannot survive,” he said.

mw/ds/rz source




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Corruption trumped building code: Need for “building-oriented disaster management”

Posted by African Press International on May 16, 2013

Analysis: “Wake-up call” for Bangladesh’s building industry

Nothing natural about this disaster


  • Corruption trumped building code
  • Need for “building-oriented disaster management”
  • Business representatives to identify unsafe factories
  • Planning authority unclear

DHAKA,  – Corpses are still being recovered from Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster ever – a factory building collapse on 24 April that killed at least 600 workers near the capital. Government experts are scrambling to prevent a repeat.

“This is a wake-up call for us because a lot of construction is going on in Dhaka [the capital] and other cities, so we are definitely trying to find out the solution,” said Abdus Salam, a senior research engineer in the government’s Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI).

One government explanation for the accident is that shoddy construction combined with vibrations from inappropriately placed heavy machinery brought down the eight-story building, known as Rana Plaza, filled with hundreds of textile workers.

An early damage assessment (still unpublished) by NGO Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) conducted on the day of the collapse revealed how a building intended for retail merchants was being used for industrial purposes. It housed five garment factories that employed at least 3,000 workers and placed weight on the floors (including four huge electrical generators on the third and fourth floors) almost six times greater than the building was intended to bear. Support columns were erected haphazardly. Building materials and methods were below par.

Experts say the building was but one example of a broken system for authorizing, carrying out and monitoring construction; tens of thousands more buildings – and millions of people inside them – face the same fate, said Anisur Rahman, an urban planner with ADPC’s office in Bangladesh.

“We are looking at the foundation for a big disaster.”

Lack of clear planning authority

Legislation from the 1950s gave the Ministry of Housing and Public Works authority to regulate town planning, while a 2009 Municipality Act transferred that power to local governments. Since then each of the capital’s five municipalities (including Savar, the site of the industrial accident 30km outside Dhaka) has handled its own planning.

“It’s a management mess,” admitted K.Z. Hossain Taufique, an urban planner and director of town planning for the government’s Capital Development Authority, explaining how since the 1980s, as more businesses and people located in cities, responsibility for town planning has been divided between the Housing Ministry and the Ministry of Local Government, creating a patchwork of authorization – and leaving deadly gaps.

Unenforced building codes

The National Building Code from 1993 and building construction guidelines (2008) are rarely – at best weakly – enforced, say government experts. The UN’s highest official for disaster risk reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom, called in 2012 for an update of the building code (a process then under way for one year) to protect the seismically active country from widespread devastation.

But Mohammed Abu Sadeque, director of the governmental Housing and Building Research Institute (which is spearheading the building code’s revision), said with the recent industrial disaster, the problem was not the code (which is “good enough” and “fairly safe and sound”), but rather its lack of enforcement.

Corruption and lack of integrity at all levels – from dishonest architects and engineers to profiteering owners and government officials – means “cutting corners” said Bashirul Haq, an architect in Dhaka who recently served on a government committee revising the building code.

“Dhaka has limited space. Developers are in this market for money and want to squeeze as much as they can into any space. Yes, we have a law, but who is implementing it?” he asked.

Police have arrested the building’s owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, as well as the engineer who approved the building’s design.

Low professional standards

Haq has advocated a professional registry of architects and engineers to weed out unethical ones and to boost standards. “Design needs to be more rigorous, especially these days,” said the near-retiring architect, referring to the country’s high risk to natural disasters, as well as the steady pace of factory construction in cities.

The current process of signing off constructions as safe is haphazard and ill-informed, he added. Though companies should submit detailed plans to their local planning officials, which are then approved by an architect and engineer, mostly only rough sketches and outlines are required now, said Haq.

Local government may not have engineers or architects qualified to give approval, he added.

Death toll 616 and counting

“Overall, building-oriented disaster management needs strengthening,” he concluded. By shaving off 0.3 metre of a staircase’s width, designers can help prevent a stampede during an emergency as only two people are able to fit through at once, which is “only a detail, but an important one”, said Haq. Suggested revisions to the building code are now before parliament.

Poor land use

The building collapse highlighted the dangers of unplanned development, said ADPC’s Rahman. According to the 20-year Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan, effective until 2015, extra attention was to be paid to construction in Savar due to three fault lines that pass through the municipality, making it the “most severe” earthquake zone nationwide.

“That plan has essentially been ignored, something that everyone shares blame [for], starting with the `Rajuk’ [Capital Development Authority],” said Rahman.

But due to the 2009 Municipality Act, the Capital Development Authority cannot intervene in municipal planning, the group’s chairman, Nurul Huda, told IRIN. “If I were to come over [to Savar’s municipal government] asking questions about land use, they would ask me, ‘Who are you to come here?’”

He said his office has requested the Ministry of Housing and Public Works to “clarify the controversy” surrounding conflicting laws in an effort to regain control of the capital’s planning.

Also needed is a re-evaluation of ways to disperse industrial development to prevent over-construction in any one area, said Rahman. “There are vacant industrial zones to re-locate new factories,” he said, mentioning the southwestern city of Khulna (formerly a jute industrial zone) as one way to spread the risk of buildings collapsing in an earthquake.

Change interrupted

“Finding a regulatory body to prevent a similar tragedy – that is our goal,” said Salam with the Housing and Building Research Institute. He said proposals are circulating on boosting local officials’ expertise on construction standards and safety monitoring, as well as creating high-level district committees that will bring together architects, engineers, health officials and representatives from local government and the Ministry of Housing and Public Works.

Meanwhile, the Urban Development Directorate, part of the Housing Ministry, is seeking government approval to draft a national urbanization plan up to 2021 which would centralize planning power in the Housing Ministry once again.

The country’s Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association has asked garment factories in the capital to submit structural drawings, while the labour and employment minister is heading another committee to investigate factories outside the capital.

As of 2011, there were some 5,100 garment factories nationwide employing 3.6 million people, according to the trade organization.

The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology is supposed to conduct risk assessments to find the most vulnerable buildings in the capital. Halfway completed is a visual seismic assessment by the government’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme of some 400,000 buildings, also in the capital area.

Altogether, there are some 1.26 million residential and commercial structures there, according to the Capital Development Authority.

There are already some 5,000 cases against owners occupying unsafe buildings in Dhaka, but without court orders city officials have not been able to evict them, said the chairman, Huda. Since 2010, processing time has improved somewhat due to three mobile courts handling the backlog, he added.

Rahman from ADPC remains skeptical about pledges to reform the building industry. He heard similar promises following a 2005 commercial building collapse in Palash Bari (near the Savar disaster) that killed near 70 and left dozens more missing; a 2010 chemical explosion in a residential area of the capital caused by improperly stored chemicals, which killed 120; and most recently, a fire in a garment factory in November 2012 that killed at least 100.

But Dhaka’s development authority chairman, Huda, said efforts to change have been under way. Since 2010, his request for more engineers and architects has gone through six departments in three ministries for approval. “We hope to be able to recruit more experts soon.”

pt/cb  source


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Bangladesh garment factory collapse

Posted by African Press International on May 1, 2013

DHAKA,  – Bangladesh must strengthen its urban search and rescue capacity, say experts, following the collapse of an eight-story factory building outside Dhaka which left nearly 400 dead. 

“This most recent tragedy highlights the need for the government to do more in the area of urban search and rescue,” Gerson Brandao, humanitarian affairs adviser to the office of the UN resident coordinator, told IRIN.

“Noble efforts were made to reach many of the survivors, particularly by volunteers, but unfortunately it was not enough.”

On 24 April, at least 385 people were killed when the concrete structure collapsed in Bangladesh’s Savar industrial suburb (24km northwest Dhaka), trapping more than 3,000 mostly garment workers inside.

Brandao’s comments follow criticism of the authorities’ overall handling of the operation, and the Bangladeshi government’s rejection of international search and rescue offers, including by members of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organizations dedicated to urban search and rescue (USAR) and operational field coordination, just hours after the building’s collapse.

Bangladesh Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir defended the decision saying no help was needed because the country’s local emergency services were well equipped.

Many describe it as Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident since the country gained independence in 1971.

More than 2,000 volunteers and local rescue teams rushed to the scene to assist. However, they soon found themselves overwhelmed and ill-equipped.

“There is a notable gap in specialized and sophisticated equipment such as micro-cameras which can go under the rubble to search for survivors, as well as scanners that can detect human heat,” Brandao noted, adding that there was also no sniffer dog capacity to identify survivors under the rubble.

In addition to a lack of specialized equipment, however, many of the volunteers, including some trained by the authorities to respond in such situations, did not even have protective gear such as gloves and helmets.

“Rescuers were even asking members of the public for flashlights,” said one international aid worker who preferred anonymity and who visited the scene.

A wake-up call?

Others criticized the overall coordination of the operation, describing it as “confused”.

“The incident reminds us that we are not prepared for a major earthquake. When we face difficulties to operate rescue operations in one building, it’s not difficult to understand what might happen in a major earthquake,” said Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, an earthquake expert and professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Densely populated Dhaka is at high risk of an earthquake, experts say.

“In a major earthquake, 100-200 buildings may collapse. It would be difficult to conduct a rescue operation with the present capacity,” Ansary said.

Brandao also called for institutional reform, noting that in Bangladesh the fire service and civil defence are one institution, but the two bodies have different sets of skills.

“The Bangladesh fire services and civil defence are very well trained in dealing with fires, but lack the capacity and training needed for civil defence, of which urban search and rescue is a component,” he said.

According to the Department of Disaster Management, the government has 23,000 trained volunteers and plans to train 66,000 more in the coming years. However, confidence even within the department is low.

“If we can’t manage a rescue operation in one building, how can we possibly manage one when many buildings collapse,” said one official who asked not to be identified.

mw/ds/cb  source


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Why food can kill in Bangladesh By Mubashar Hasan

Posted by African Press International on April 18, 2013

By Mubashar Hasan 

Bright, fresh, green – but safety unknown


  • Millions fall ill annually due to food, drink
  • Pesticide use excessive and unregulated
  • Food vendors operate illegally, without oversight
  • Current food control policies ineffective

DHAKA,  – Food can just as easily kill as it keeps people alive, experts have learned in Bangladesh, where excessive use of pesticide, unregulated street food and lack of awareness about food safety sicken millions annually.

“Every day we are eating dangerous foods, which are triggering deadly diseases,” said Kazi Faruque, president of the nonprofit Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB).

Children younger than five in Bangladesh are at the greatest risk from eating unsafe food, which causes at least 18 percent of deaths in that age group and 10 percent of adults’ deaths, according to a 2006 study cited by the US-based University of Minnesota’s Centre for Animal Health and Food Safety.

Shah M. Faruque, director of the Centre for Food and Waterborne Disease at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, told IRIN this trend has continued, and may worsen as urbanization strains clean water supply in the capital, Dhaka.

On average, he said from 300 to 1,000 patients visit his medical clinic in Dhaka daily, mostly because of diarrhoea or cholera, which are often traced back to food or drink.

Pesticides and poor planning

Experts say the farm is one starting point for how food can turn fatal.

“Many farmers in the country use an excessive amount of pesticide in agricultural products hoping to [boost] output, while ignoring [the] serious health impacts on consumers,” said Nurul Alam Masud, head of the Participatory Research and Action Network (PRAN), a local NGO.

Despite repeated warnings from the government about this issue, lack of coordination among public agencies has hampered effective controls, said Hasan Ahmmed Chowdhury, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advisor on food safety policies.

FAO is advocating a “farm to table” approach that addresses how food is grown or raised, to how it is collected, processed, packaged, sold and consumed.

Urban poor

In 2009, Bangladesh’s parliament passed the country’s first consumer protection law covering food safety and security. New standards included requiring food labels, creating safety testing standards, monitoring products for chemical and microbial hazards, and holding producers accountable by levying fines for violations.

This law joined several others aimed at regulating food quality: Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (1959), Fish and Fish Product Rules (1997) and the Radiation Protection Act (1987).

Safe and nutritious food for all is also guaranteed in the constitution – but on the streets, it is a different matter.

“Street vendors operating small, unregulated carts feed millions of people daily, offering no guarantee of safety, with approximately one in six people becoming ill after eating out,” said Sohana Sharmin Chowdhury, head of urban development and communicable diseases at the local NGO Eminence.

This risk makes life even harder for slum dwellers who rely on street food for its ease and affordability, she said. “Health care is already a challenge for [the] slum population. This disease burden from unsafe food consumption adds up to their misery.”

At least 5 percent of Bangladesh’s 170 million people live in illegal housing settlements. According to a 2008 Asian Development Bank study, poor people in Bangladesh, particularly those in cities, find it difficult to prepare food at home as they spend so much time outside the home earning a living.

“Many of them end up eating cheap [ready-made meals] of low quality purchased from small shops or street vendors,” Chowdhury said.

Even though street food sales are illegal, and therefore unregulated, unofficial estimates hold that authorities tolerate about 200,000 food carts selling everything from samuchas – deep fried minced meat or vegetables wrapped in flour – to yogurt “lassi” drinks.

Profit at any cost

Faruque of CAB said vendors’ “philosophy of making profit at any cost” puts consumers at risk.

A common practice among food vendors is to spray fish, fruits and vegetables with chemical preservatives including formalin – a commercial solution of formaldehyde and water – to boost food’s lifespan and appearance.

Formaldehyde is typically used to preserve human corpses, as well as leather and textile products, said Razibul Islam Razon, a medical doctor in the capital who has treated food poisoning.

The chemical’s short-term effects include: a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. As for potential long-term health consequences, formaldehyde has been identified as a human carcinogen.

Going to the source to boost food safety

Shah Monir Hossain, a senior adviser at FAO in Bangladesh, said renal failure, cancer and liver damage – all potentially fatal – can be linked to the consumption of unsafe food, but the “extent of food-borne illness is yet unknown”. He predicted the situation will improve with more oversight.

But the private sector is hitting back.

“We are using a special preservative detector machine to check food [for] formalin at our sourcing in order to make sure that our customers receive safe food,” said Sabbir Hasan Nasir, executive director of a company running 40 all-in-one shopping centres nationwide serving about 20,000 customers daily.

“Customers can even check foods in our store through a machine in order to detect formalin,” he added.

Meanwhile, the local NGO Citizens Solidarity recently sent a notice to the government requesting legal steps to force vendors to cease and desist unethical vending practices.

But even when vendors do not knowingly engage in unsafe food handling, their lack of knowledge, coupled with long work hours and their own precarious health, can sicken customers, according to a 2010 FAO-government initiative to boost healthy street food.

The projects’ researchers tested 426 food samples from Dhaka vendors who had not undergone any food hygiene training and 135 from those who had. Samples from untrained vendors had almost uniformly “overwhelming” high bacteria counts, while results from trained vendors largely fell within international safety standards.

The researchers called on the government to develop a policy to “assist, maintain and control” street food vending.

Government efforts

The government is set to create the Bangladesh Food Safety and Quality Control Authority to boost control of street food and to criminalize unsafe food handling, the Minister of Food and Disaster Management, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, told IRIN.

Under the National Food Safety and Quality Act 2013, this authority will be created within the next two months, said Ahmed Hossain Khan, director-general of the Directorate General of Food in the same ministry.

The draft act addresses weaknesses in the existing food safety regulatory system, including the scant enforcement of food control laws along the entire supply chain. It also introduces a national food-borne disease surveillance system and outlines an emergency response plan in case of a disease outbreak linked to food.

“We identified existing loopholes in our food safety system, and this act will help us radically improve our approach in food safety regulation,” Khan said.

But Nazrul Islam, an associate professor at the Dhaka School of Economics, said regulatory policies alone have failed to solve the food safety problem, and that the government needs to examine the economic roots of unsafe food: the underclass of farmers responsible for feeding the country.

One start, he suggested, is guaranteeing farmers fair prices, a longstanding grievance of producers who accuse middlemen traders and end consumers of profit gouging.

“This may encourage farmers not to go for unethical practices up to a certain extent,” said Islam, adding that better agricultural extension services, easier access to information for farmers and strict regulatory measures are equally important.

The Asian Development Bank is supporting private agribusiness production facilities that will pay guaranteed prices to 50,000 contracted farmers.

But more is needed, Islam said. “The biggest challenge the country is facing in ensuring a meaningful food security for its…people is food safety.”

The 2012 Global Hunger Index places the country’s hunger situation in an “alarming” range, with too few people being able to eat nutritious, life-sustaining food.

mh/pt/rz source


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UNHCR calls on Dhaka to open border

Posted by African Press International on November 2, 2012

There are more than 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh

BANGKOK,  – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on Bangladesh to open its borders to Rohingyas fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar.

“UNHCR continues to consider that until public order and security are restored for all communities in [Myanmar’s] Rakhine State, states should not forcibly return to Myanmar persons originating from Rakhine State,” Pia Paguio, senior protection officer and officer-in-charge of UNHCR in Dhaka, told IRIN on 29 October. “We thus continue to appeal to the government of Bangladesh to open its borders to those in need of a safe haven.”

Under Burmese law, the Rohingya – a persecuted minority of 800,000 – are de jure stateless in Myanmar and face constant persecution, while in Muslim-majority Bangladesh they are viewed as illegal migrants. 

Bangladesh has repeatedly said it will not accept any Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic violence in neighbouring Myanmar’s western Rakhine State.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar over the past three decades, the vast majority to Bangladesh in the 1990s.

Displacement rising

According to Burmese government estimates released on 29 October, more than 28,000 residents have been displaced in Rakhine State following a week of deadly sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic (mainly Buddhist) Rakhine which began on 21 October.

At least 76 people were killed, and more than 4,600 houses and several religious buildings destroyed, in the unrest, the UN reported on 29 October. There was violence in the Rakhine State townships of Kyaukpyu, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Pauktaw, Ramree and Rathedaung. 

Tensions had increased after monks, and women’s and youth groups organized anti-Rohingya and anti-Organization of Islamic Cooperation demonstrations in Sittwe, Mandalay and Yangon, the report said.

The latest displacement comes on top of the 75,000, mostly Rohingya Muslims, currently displaced after communal violence erupted in June following the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by a group of Muslim men in May.

At least 78 people were killed and close to 5,000 homes and buildings were destroyed in that incident.

Most of the displaced are currently in nine overcrowded camps in Sittwe, separated from the rest of the community due to security concerns.

Closed border

There are more than 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh today, including more than 30,000 documented refugees living in two government-run camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara) within 2km of the Burmese border, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR has not been permitted to register newly arriving Rohingya since mid-1992. Most Rohingya are living in villages and towns in the Cox’s Bazar area and receive little to no assistance as the agency is only allowed to assist those who are documented.

UNHCR does not have access to the 193km Myanmar-Bangladesh border to verify the situation of persons arriving from Rakhine State. Moreover, Bangladesh’s closed border policy remains in effect.

Despite repeated advocacy efforts by UNHCR, civil society and the diplomatic community, Dhaka, fearing a major influx, closed its borders to persons fleeing communal violence Myanmar in June.

Those who did manage to make it across the border were rounded up and sent back to Myanmar. However, there are no reliable figures on the number of arrivals and the number refouled.

Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

“UNHCR reiterates its readiness to provide protection and assistance to the governments and the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar in addressing this evolving humanitarian situation,” said Paguino.



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