Friday, October 28, 2011

Bangladesh, India, Pakistan vulnerable to climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

A new global ranking of climate change finds most Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan will face the greatest risks to their populations, ecosystems and business environments.

The index rates 16 countries as ‘extreme risk,’ including nations that represent new Asian economic power and possess significant forecasted growth. The highest risk categories are major contributors to the ongoing global economic recovery and are vital to the future expansion of Western businesses in particular, which worries environmentalists.

The new Climate Change Vulnerability Index released by global risks advisory firm Maplecroft recently, which enables organizations to identify areas of risk within their operations, supply chains and investments.

Principal Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr Matthew Bunce said that over the next 30 years their vulnerability to climate change will rise due to increases in air temperature, precipitation and humidity.

Maplecroft rates Bangladesh as the most at risk due to extreme levels of poverty and a high dependency on agriculture, whilst its government has the lowest capacity of all countries to adapt to predicted changes in the climate.

In addition, Bangladesh has a high risk of drought and the highest risk of flooding. This is illustrated during October 2010, when 500,000 people were driven from their homes by flood waters created by storms.

However, despite the country’s plethora of problems, the Bangladesh economy grew 88 percent between 2000 and 2008 and is forecast to by the IMF to grow 5.4 percent over 2010 and up to 6.2 percent over the next five years.

According to Maplecroft, the countries with the most risk are characterized by high levels of poverty, dense populations, exposure to climate-related events; and their reliance on flood and drought prone agricultural land.

Throughout 2010, changes in weather patterns have resulted in a series of devastating natural disasters, especially in South Asia, where heavy floods in Pakistan affected more than 20 million people (over 10 percent of the total population) and killed more than 1,700 people, said Environmental Analyst at Maplecroft, Dr. Anna Moss.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bangladesh population pegged at 150.5M, compromising contradiction

SALEEM SAMAD

WORLD’S POOREST nation Bangladesh present population has been counted by a United Nations agency at 15.5 million on Wednesday, five-days ahead of when the world population is expected to reach 7 billion.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated country’s population, which is a contradiction to Bangladesh census announced in March 2011 the population of Bangladesh stands at 142.319 million.

The UNFPA in its annual flagship publication State of World Population 2011 also indicated the number of males and females at 76.2 million and 74.3 million respectively, and pegged the country's annual population growth rate at 1.3 percent.

Whereas the UN population agency in its 2010 annual report said the current population of Bangladesh was 164.4 million, which is 15 million more than the figure released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, responsible for national census.

The UNFPA had to revise its 2010 population figure after Bangladesh rejected the head count figure.

However, planning minister A.K. Khandker said on Wednesday he was 'happy' to see the projection which were 'close to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics'.

The minister, decorated war veteran said the population growth would lead to invasion of agricultural land and forests for construction of new townships if the explosion in human population is not checked immediately.

“Energy crisis, unemployment problem, economic problem, health and education problem, housing problem - everything will become more acute. There will be human abodes everywhere with no space to move freely,” he said.

According to the UN, the world's population grew to 1 billion in 1804, 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011.

Experts, however, say the world at 7 billion will be marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes as in some of the poorest countries a growing population stands in the way of development, while some of the richest countries are worried about low birth rates and ageing populations.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Bangladesh keen to send thousands of workers back to Libya

Photo: Panic stricken Bangladesh migrant workers makes desperate escape to neighbouring Tunisia
SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH IS keen to send thousands of workers to Libya who fled the beleaguered country in April.

Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, the government minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, on Sunday said officials plan to resend tens of thousands of construction workers and other employees back to Libya.

The Bangladesh embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli is negotiating with several Korean, Japanese and other private companies who had employed Bangladesh migrant workers but who were repatriated soon after the country plunged in civil war that ended last week with the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Diplomats in Tripoli said many international companies that shut down factories during the violence were also keen to reinstate Bangladeshi workers.

Despite its poor economy, Bangladesh had to bring home at least 36,000 migrant workers who had abandoned their jobs in Libya after the outbreak of civil unrest in North Africa.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped repatriate panic-stricken workers who poured into the neighbouring countries of Tunisia and Egypt.

Hossain is confident that the country will be able to send tens of thousands of workers as there is need of a huge workforce to rebuild Libya.

Thousands of Bangladeshi doctors, nurses and engineers have opted to stay back at their work station in Libya. In fact they were asked not leave the workplace by employers, despite risk of their life during the eight months civil war.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, October 17, 2011

Telenor refuses to pay $400M in fines to Bangladesh authority

SALEEM SAMAD

NORWEGIAN TELECOM giant Telenor has refused to pay the Bangladesh telecommunications authority $400 million in penalties for tax evasion and revenue sharing costs.

Telenor chief executive officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas dashed to Dhaka to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over the weekend to apprise her of the standoff between Telenor’s venture partner GrameenPhone (GP) and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

GrameenPhone’s chairman, Sigve Brekke, in a press briefing Sunday, threatened to take the regulatory authority to court to achieve a settlement of the purported audit findings.

Brekke, also head of Telenor’s Asia operations, said he wants the audit done in a proper way, a position the country's leading mobile phone operator has maintained since Oct. 3, when BTRC sent a letter to GP claiming the operator owes $400 million (BDT 30.34 billion) in revenue sharing and taxes.

Executives of the Norwegian phone company initially responded that the audit findings did not follow international standards, but maintain there is still room for settling the dispute through dialogue.

GP was asked to pay the dues by Oct. 23 otherwise the regulator might take legal action. BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed has described GP’s attitude as arrogant.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Hasanul Haque Inu, chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee on telecommunication, questioned whether the methodology by which the assessment of GrameenPhone was conducted had been defined.

Telenor, with a 55.8 percent share of GrameenPhone, dominates the telecom industry in Bangladesh. The company boasts of 32 million mobile phone subscribers, nearly 43 percent of the country's total mobile phone users. It has an income of $1 billion annually.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, October 15, 2011

U.S. cautioned Bangladesh not to shackle the press, civil liberties

SALEEM SAMAD

UNITED STATES government has cautioned Bangladesh to ensure that media outlets are able to exercise freedom of the press and that civil societies have the opportunity to be outspoken on civil liberties.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday voiced concern over the functioning of the Grameen Bank properly after its managing director Nobel laureate Prof. Mohammad Yunus was removed early this year.

Clinton speaking to visiting Bangladesh foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni at the State Department office in Washington stressed transparency and objectivity in the proceedings of War Crimes Tribunal, which has detained seven Islamist as suspects for their war crimes during the bloody war of independence in 1971.

The US secretary of state also urged the government to ensure that media outlets were able to exercise freedom and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had the opportunity to be a vibrant contributor to the future of Bangladesh.

On the issue of the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, the secretary of state expressed her satisfaction with the meetings US ambassador-at-large for war crimes Stephen Rapp earlier had with the Bangladesh authorities and hoped that the trials would be conducted in conformity with international standards.

On Friday, at a regular press briefing at the State Department, spokesperson Victoria Nuland said United States is supportive of that initiative for war crimes trial.

United States earlier expressed concern regarding removal of Grameen Bank’s founder Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of banking the poor and urged not to harass him. The Nobel Prize winner empowered a million rural women to help alleviate poverty.

During the 40 minutes meeting, Clinton praised Bangladesh for combating poverty and terrorism.

In response her Bangladesh counterpart said, as a secular democratic country, having a free and robust media, vibrant civil society, looks forward to more effective cooperation with United States, a development partner.

Dr. Moni raised extradition of the mastermind of military putsch in August 1975 when the Bangladesh independence hero Shiekh Mujibur Rahman assassinated.

The foreign minister mentioned that among the six fugitives, the mastermind Colonel A.M. Rashed Chowdhury has recently moved to Los Angeles. She sought Washington's cooperation in the repatriation of the self-confessed assassin in order to bring an end of the culture of impunity prevailed in the country for more than thirty-four years.

In response to extradition, she said the issue had been under judicial process and assured her that the State Department would look into it, as quoted in official press release.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Environmentalist fears millions will migrate into Bangladesh cities in the wake of climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

Environmentalists and NGOs are alarmed to learn that millions of “climate refugees” will be forced to migrate to cities for livelihood and shelter, causing human tragedy in Bangladesh.

Prof. Shayer Ghafur, environmentalist and teacher of state university on engineering and technology told non-government organizations network for urban poor on Thursday that 400,000 people have already begun to reach the including Bangladesh capital Dhaka annually after tidal surge twice inundated in recent years.

Bangladesh vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise is predicted that the coastal region will go 1 meter under the Bay of Bengal and displace 14.8 million people by inundating a 11524 sq. mi area of coastal Bangladesh in the next 40-50 years.

The trek to the cities under extreme weather events as their survival destination would reach staggering proportion, according to International Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report.

Alarmed by sea level rise, the massive influx of climate refugees, who are different from economic migrants, would be arriving in urban habitats, which would baffle the city fathers for coping with the crisis of homelessness caused from population displacement.

The arrival of climate refugees in cities would become am immediate policy concern, regarding project design, implementation and resource mobilization for their shelter and livelihoods. Their arrival will create major impact on scarce shelter and services, livelihood opportunities, and health and education needs, said Prof. Gafur.

In the climate change scenario, the adaptation and mitigation measures need to be expedited, instead of waiting for compensation packages from the rich nations in near future, Khondker Rebaka Sun-yat, chief of Coalition for urban Poor told the seminar.

Meanwhile, prime minister Shiekh Hasina told Washington Post newspaper last Tuesday that Bangladesh has developed a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan as a quick response to an immediate need to address the impacts of climate change.

“It is a cumulative effect of global emission in which Bangladesh does not have any role,” Hasina quipped. Obviously the responsibility lies with the global community to address the issue urgently, as it is not possible for Bangladesh alone to take action against rising sea level.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bangladesh ranked world’s 5th most vulnerable country for climate change

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH HAS been named one of the top countries in the world most vulnerable to a climate change-induced food crisis and hunger.

International aid agency ActionAid, in a research study revealed Monday, found Bangladesh among 28 developing countries more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than its South Asian neighbors India, Pakistan and Nepal.

The report titled “On the Brink: Who's Best Prepared for a Climate Change and Hunger Crisis?” warned that the era of cheap food was near its end due to the triple crises of climate change, depleted natural resources and skyrocketing food prices.

Bangladesh, among other countries, may not be prepared to face the consequences, the report said.

ActionAid, an international non-governmental organization focused on poverty and injustice, said that Bangladesh is facing severe water-related challenges due to scarcity of fresh water, salinity, increased flood and erosion, and frequent and prolonged drought.

The organization said the country's early warning system for floods, cyclones and storm was considered state-of-the-art.

With nearly half of Bangladesh's 150 million people already living below the poverty line, higher food prices will have a severe impact on people's ability to buy enough food, the report said.

It recommends that Bangladesh needs to produce 30 million more tonnes of rice each year to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. The challenges of losing more than 80,000 hectares to climate change or urbanization every year would complicate the ability to attain food autonomy.

While rural women play a central role in agriculture production, social norms and customs limit their mobility, according to the report.

The NGO argues that although the number of undernourished people in Bangladesh dropped to 27 percent as of January, prices of rice and wheat increased by 42 percent in April over the previous year.

ActionAid fears that climate change would add half a billion people to those facing chronic hunger around the world by 2050. Alarming rises in the price of food would push 44 million more people into poverty, while the poorest people would lose more arable lands as a result of unsustainable farming practices and an unprecedented rush by investors to control resources such as oil, minerals, bio-fuel and water.

Moreover, in the World Risk Index 2011, jointly conducted by United Nations University (UNU), Germany and the Institute of Environment and Human Security, published in September, Bangladesh ranked sixth among countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters including typhoons, earthquake and tsunamis, as was listed in second place among Asian countries.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Saudi Arabia executes 8 Bangladeshi migrants despite mercy appeal

Photo: Executions have resumed in Saudi Arabia at an alarming rate since Ramadan

SALEEM SAMAD

Saudi Arabian authority beheaded by sword 8 Bangladesh born migrants in capital Riyadh on Friday amidst protest by Amnesty International (AI).

The authorities in Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh confirmed their execution. The Labour Counsellor of the mission Harun-or Rashid said that the slain convicts were buried in Saudi Arabia.

Promptly the London based rights group AI condemned the execution in a statement on Friday. Criticizing the process of conviction, the rights body said that it might have been only based on confessions obtained under duress or deception.

Bangladesh officials said the convicts were sentenced to death for armed robbery and alleged murder of an Egyptian man in April 2007.

Riyadh authorities refrained from informing the Bangladesh mission, but the diplomat said the embassy will seek permission whether the dead bodies could be brought home for the mourning relatives and also observe rituals according to Muslim custom.

A letter on behalf of the president of Bangladesh was sent to the King of Saudi Arabia seeking his mercy to the convicts, the diplomat said.

Rashid said that in response to the appeal by the president, the foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia communicated that only the family of the deceased have the right to pardon the convicts according to the Koran.

Scores of Arabs at Justice Square near Al Hakam Palace in Riyadh witnessed the executions of the Bangladesh citizens were Ma'mun Abdul Mannan, Faruq Jamal, Sumon Miah, Mohammed Sumon, Shafiq al-Islam, Mas'ud Shamsul Haque, Abu al-Hussain Ahmed, Mutir al-Rahman, the rights watchdog report said.

Three other Bangladeshis were sentenced to prison terms and flogging indicted in same crime.

Most of the defendants have no defense lawyer, have insufficient fluency of Arabic language to follow proceedings and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them, said AI’s Middle East and North Africa director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The organization also pointed out that majority of those executed recently in Saudi Arabia is migrant workers from poor and developing countries.

The beheadings bring the number of executions in Saudi Arabia this year to at least 58, more than double than the 2010 figures. Twenty of those executed in 2011 were foreign nationals, the AI press release said.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Inadequate hygienic toilets cost Bangladesh $4B in health bill

SALEEM SAMAD

DISMAL SANITATION facilities for the poor costs Bangladesh $4.22 billion every year in health-related economic impacts and cultural development, according to a study by the World Bank.

The report, “The Economic Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation in Bangladesh,” reveals that the total amount of these losses is five times higher than the country's national health budget and three times higher than the national education budget in 2007.

The report, released Thursday, says that premature death and the ill effects of poor access to hygienic toilets contributed 84 percent of the total cost.

The report also cites the productive time lost in accessing sanitation facilities or sites for defecation, as well as drinking water-related impacts.

Diarrhea and cholera result in the biggest health-related economic impact from poor sanitation, accounting for two-thirds of the total cost, the report said. Acute lower respiratory infections account for about 15 percent.

Bangladesh's basic sanitation coverage rose from 33.2 percent in 2003 to 80.4 percent in 2009. This report shows that despite great success, much can still be done in the sanitation sector of Bangladesh, observed Ellen Goldstein, the bank's country director in Bangladesh.

The bank’s Water Sanitation Program urges Bangladesh authorities to pay attention to investments in better hygiene. A comprehensive sanitation and hygiene interventions can result in preventing 61 percent of the economic loss due to health impacts linked to sanitation and all the adverse impacts of inadequate sanitation related to water and welfare losses.

Efforts to improve sanitation could yield a potential gain of about $2.26 billion, the equivalent to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the report states. This implies a potential gain of $15.9 per capita.

Bangladesh follows other South Asian nations such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in having appalling sanitation facilities for the urban and rural poor.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

U.S. urged to deport an assassin of Bangladesh founder

Photo: Shiekh Hasina, prime of minister of Bangladesh (extreme right) in an undated family photo (from left): eldest son Shiekh Kamal, Shiekh Rehana, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman and on his lap youngest son Shiekh Russel, wife Begum Fajilutunessa, and son Shiekh Jamal


SALEEM SAMAD


BANGLADESH ONCE again has urged United States government to deport the assassin of a hero of Bangladesh independence Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, presently living in the United States.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on Tuesday issued a formal diplomatic letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expel the fugitive Lt. Col. M.A. Rashed Chowdhury, who has recently moved into Los Angeles.

Bangladesh Ambassador in Washington Akramul Quader has confirmed information from sources regarding the whereabouts of the convicted colonel after he fled the civil strife Libyan capital. He along with other fugitives was given sanctuary by Colonel Muamar Gaddafi in 1975.

In early 2009 international police organization Interpol issued a red alert against the fugitive assailant of Mujibur Rahman, also popularly know as Bangabandhu (friend of Bangladesh).

Interpol officials said they conducted a drive called Operation Infra-Red 2010 from May 3 to July 15 and gathered information of the movements of the truants.

In August 1975, the first president Rahman along with his family members in his private resident were killed in a military putsch, led by a dozen young military officers from the armored corps. The coup d’├ętat was short lived and the rogue military officers were forced into exile.

When Rahman’s daughter Shiekh Hasina, who survived the killing as she was abroad with his scientist husband, became the prime minister in 1996, she tried the assassins, who boasted in a series of television interviews in London describing the conspiracy and murder of the Bangladesh founder.

The duo coup leaders, Chowdhury and his brother-in-law Col. Syed Farook Rahman were held responsible for conspiracy to overthrow an elected government and murders of the Rahman’s family. Rahman was captured, tried and hanged, while Chowdhury, the key conspirator remains a fugitive.

Earlier in 2009 the U.S. deported A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed to Bangladesh after his application seeking political asylum was refused. Ahmed along with five other key coup leaders were hanged last January in a maximum security prison in capital Dhaka soon after Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of 12 self-confessed assassins of Bangabandhu.

The Canadian immigration turned down Colonel S.H.B.M Noor Chowdhury refugee petitions several times, but he is unlikely to be deported because he faces death penalty in his home country.

Meanwhile, Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said on Wednesday that the fugitives would be able to appeal to higher courts against their conviction after they are expelled from abroad.

In absence of extradition treaty between Bangladesh and North American countries, the deportation of the assassins will be further delayed.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Head counting of panhandlers in Bangladesh

Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters: Beggars at street inter-section
SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH, ONE of the poorest nations in the world, kicked off head counts of street beggars Friday in the capital Dhaka.

Government officials said the survey was not intended to harass the beggars but to determine their needs in order to offer them alternative livelihoods.

Beggar Rehabilitation Project director Gazi Mohammad Julhas said the information of each beggar will be documented with a photo and a code number. The survey has been assigned to 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

An estimated 40,000 beggars live in the capital, a city of 12 million population, many of whom are physically disabled. The project’s ambitious objective is to help them return to their villages to restart a new life, he said.

A survey team leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said the beggars are suspicious of the government’s motive. They said that as begging is banned in the capital, there is a risk that whoever admits to being a beggars could be deemed an offender.

NGO staffs say the survey could be a big challenge as beggars are constantly moving around the metropolitan area.

During the World Cup Cricket 2011 competition in February, thousands of street beggars were rounded up and sent to state-run vocational training centers, which in reality were detention centers.

Despite the government's efforts to abolish beggars, the practice remains widespread in the capital and in the up-country. Scores of beggars are regularly seen at street intersections, bus and railway stations, mosques, restaurants and in front of shopping malls.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com