Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and icddr,b have been researching the pandemic COVID-19 since it has been introduced to Bangladesh. Recently, they have published a news that has risen many question. They find that the rate of Covid-19 antibody prevalence among slum people was a whopping 74%. The more astonishing news is this rate is more than the people who are not living in slums.
From the very start, every authority has been concerned about slum dwellers that slum people would be the most vulnerable because of COVID, both economically and physically. There is no doubt that pandemic and the resultant lockdown has devastated their source of livelihood. There home is encroached with high density, lack of proper sanitation, nutrition as well as health facilities would be the main reason to save them from COVID. However, surprisingly, their body has developed antibody.
The IEDCR-icddr,b study tested 553 symptomatic and 817 asymptomatic patients with IgG and IgM in 3,227 households in the capital. Besides, 96 symptomatic and 314 asymptomatic slum people were tested with the two types of antibodies in 960 households. The IgM and IgG are the most useful for assessing antibody response, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.
The reason could be multiple. AAt the very beginning, they were sent to lock down. Very few lived in Dhaka. We know rate of contamination outside Dhaka was little at that time and antibody can be lived in a body for three months. So, the survey time also matters. On the other hand, the hard working slum people may have higher rate of antibody than exercise less city people. Rate of obese or high weighted people are also more in city dwellers. Obese people have low immunity. The life style matters greatly in this case. Vitamin D is main factor for raising antibody. But, city people living in high rising building has very less opportunity to enjoy sunlight which is the main source of Vitamin D. However, nutrition is a great factor for increasing antibody. In this case, city dwellers beat slum people. Very few slum dwellers are able to have necessary calorie to build their health. Even the quality of food they consume has been questioned many times. There were many research that indicated that more than 50% slum dwellers are prone to Jaundice. As a result, the new findings have raised so many questions. IEDCR and icddr,b stated that they need to study the sample more to find exact scenario.
It has been one month since the first COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Bangladesh. The numbers of infected people are increasing exponentially. Already the government has declared lock-down in different areas and cancelled all the international flights. This step is necessary; however, this has lead problems to many people. As Dhaka is the center of all the employment for the people who earns by daily basis, they have lost their livelihood. Economic problem is just not limited within this group of people. Present world is dependent on being globalized. We are depended on many sectors for export and import. For example, RMG and remittance sectors will face challenges. Both sectors plays vital role on our GDP. As garment workers are unable to participate and foreign workers are unable to go foreign countries, their share of economic growth may go missing. The more concerning issue is our food industry. We are dependent on different types of food supply from foreign countries. AS COVID-19 is global pandemic, other countries are suffering too as a result there is a chance that food supply may face various obstacles.
It is time, we start thinking about revitalizing our food need as well as economic condition for upcoming days. Recent lookouts have been confirmed that the rural people are suffering the most. This is very logical as most of the people are earning on daily basis. For example, the farmers, which are the largest portion, are unable to sell their harvest, vegetable and other food items because of transportation restriction. As they do not have any cold storage, they are unable to store too. As a result, they are selling products with minimum amount leading great loss. The poultry and dairy farmers are facing same situation. Moreover, they have to buy feed which would have been already sold by this time. In this crisis, price of feed has also increased. On the other hand, the irony is that although farmers are selling their product at low price to the middle man, common city people are buying these product at regular or high price. This problem will continue, even will get worse without government intervention.
There are 83,000 poultry farmer who have investment about 42,000 crore BDT. If they continue to lose profit share, they have to bear the burden of loan. Many of them will loss everything. Farmers who are unable to sell their products and also unable to buy seeds, pesticides, etc. for harvesting will have nothing to feed themselves. As a result, rural development will decrease. Housing, infrastructure, education, health and so on will be at risk. People will have few amount to expend on these as their basic need of eating is at risk. As flood season are coming, rural people are more vulnerable. Each year flood causes housing , infrastructure and livestock destruction. Rural people will have very few resources to rebuild what they have lost.
The business standard has collected data which are shown below.
Rural People at Risk for COVID-19
Rural People Involved in Non-institutional Work
Self Employed People Currently at Risk for Lock Down
Affordable housing is prior right to every citizen. “Affordable” indeed is right word to address current problem. We know how maximum citizens are fighting to have one affordable house. The Daily Star arranged a round table discussion focusing on this issue bringing different tiers of responsible people connected with this issue. FR Khan, Managing Director, bti; DR Ishrat Islam, Professor, Department of urban and regional planning, BUET; DR MD Akter Mahmud, Vice President, Bangladesh Institute of Planners; Mominul Islam, Managing Director & CEO IPDC Finance Ltd; Arif Khan, CEO & MD, IDLC Finance; Syed Mahbubur Rahman, Chairman, ABB, and CEO & MD, Dhaka Bank; Khawaja Shahriar, MD, LankaBangla Finance; Rahel Ahmed, CEO & MD, Prime Bank; Selim RF Hussain, CEO & MD, BRAC Bank;Tanveerul Haque Probal, Managing Director, Building for Future and Former President, REHAB; Hosneara Parvin, General Manager, Business Development, Sheltech; Rejbeen Ahsan, GM, Bproperty were presented on the discussion.
Each participants has conveyed their opinion. Comprehensive policy for housing is the first step. It is certain that contribution of government is playing a huge role. Tax incentive for first time buyers, registration cost, digitization of land records have to planned accordingly. Moreover, as land value is playing great role, government must take proper initiatives. Our problem can be solved by satellite town. However, inappropriate policy and measurements, discontinuities with facilities and communication affect this solution. And last but not least, financing authority plays major role. Without favorable housing loan people will be hardly interested and capable.
It is high time; people of Dhaka city seek for comfortable travel pattern for daily activities. Recent measurements includes, banning rickshaw from three important roads of the city. Well, there are advantages of this decision but it is not easier for those people who are habituated on this travel behavior. Significant number of people use rickshaw for short distance travel. Question may arise why people would bear unnecessary travel cost when that travel can easily be done through walking, free of cost. Even, walking has good health advantage and many people do have habit of walking in morning or evening, yet they use rickshaw for daily activities.
The first reason is people do not have walking environment. This not only includes footpath being occupied by hawkers. Actually, it is quite common in Dhaka that footpaths are blocked by temporary or permanent hawkers, tea s talls, restaurant stove or grill, construction material and used as parking for cycle and motorcycle. Another concerning issue is footpaths are not connected properly. In many areas, access road to residential unit are used as passing road for outsider vehicle. Such as, to avoid traffic jam of Green road many people use Free School Street. These narrow roads which are hardly 6 feet wide mostly serve residential unit. Even, many residential buildings are giving their garage on hire to outsider for CNG, car, pick-up truck and so on. As these heavy vehicles along with private cars are roaming around in front of people’s building, they hardly feel safe for their children to walk. Because most of the time, motorized vehicle causes street accident and also children are not careful all the time. Also, parents are concerned about environment of walking. There are reports of harassment, hijacking, accidents due to reckless driving of motorized vehicle upon footpath and so on. All these discourages city dwellers walking, specially guardians to allow children walk if they have capacity to support alternative mode; car, rickshaw, motorcycle. As a result, whole generation is growing the habit to avoid walk.
In Dhaka, people even walk regularly for health purpose in different open spaces, parks and lakes. Environment and aesthetic view always contributes to explore city by walking. Our country has failed in many ways to resolve this issue. Still, many people are using footpath as public toilet space, garbage dumping zone and kiosk of cigarette and betel. There are many cases where people got hurt as garbage or heavy objects have been thrown from up above. Water logging also discourages people to walk.
Even after all these issues, significant number of people are walking as they have no other choice. It would be hard to find people who walks with satisfaction from their heart. Not all the areas of Dhaka have same scenario. Authority has kept beautiful example for creating pedestrian friendly spaces. However, it is a long way to go for making Dhaka pedestrian friendly.
Climate changing has been concerned issue all over the country. The impact can be seen and felt every day. As for example, paddy and wheat production may decrease by 17% and 61% respectively for climate change in Bangladesh. Along with losing food production capacity, we will lose our coastal areas under the sea. Delta Plan 2100 has been approved by the National Economic Council to address climate changing as well as other issues of our country. It promises prosperous growth in long term plan and to deal with climate changing issues and disaster risks. Vision: Building up a prosperous Bangladesh Delta resilient to the climate changing impacts. Mission:
Adopting firm, coordinated and flexible strategy which will ensure adaptability to changing time needs. The mission considers following key issues to face Delta challenges establishing long term safeguard in upcoming years,
– Good governance in justified water resource allocation
– Disaster risk and climate changing shock
– Food and water safeguard
– Economic prosperous
– Environmental stability
The mission of Delta Plan 2100 complies two tiers of aims, National aims and Specific aims.
National Aims: There are three higher level aims.
Aim 1: Eradicate extreme poverty by 2030
Aim 2: Obtain place in the upper-middle income earning country ranking by 2030
Aim 3: Being a prosperous country by 2041
Specific Aims: The six specific aims are,
Aim 1: Safeguard from flood and disasters associated with climate changing
Aim 2: Ensure safe water and proper use of water
Aim 3: Develop integrated durable river areas and estuary
Aim 4: Preserving and utilization of wetlands and ecosystems by compatible manner
Aim 5: Build up active institution with good governance to ensure inter and intra-country water management.
Aim 6: Ensure maximum utilization of land and water resources.
For better utilization of the plan, strategies will be coordinated with Five Year Plan (FYP) and other proposed milestone such as Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The whole plan is divided into three phases and strategies will be undertaken considering this timeline.
There are total 80 projects under the Delta plan 2100, which are, 65 initial infrastructure development projects and 15 organization capabilities and skill developing, research projects.
There are six prioritized area in plan marked as Hot spot. They are following
1. Coastal Area: 27,738 square kilometers of area consists 19 districts. Main problems are,
Cyclone and storm surge
Water salinity and severity of fresh water
Decreasing ground water table
2. Barind and Drought Prone Area: 22,848 square kilometers of area consists 18 districts.
Water salinity and severity of fresh water
Decreasing ground water table
3. Haor Region: 16,574 square kilometers of area consists 7 districts.
Water logging and drainage problems
Insufficient water and sanitation
4. Chittagong Hill Tracts:3 districts with 13,295 square kilometers.
Sewage treatment, sanitation problem
5. Major River and Estuary :The largest of all with 35,204 square kilometers of area and 29 districts.
River erosion, changing river bed and course and char area
Siltation management and river transport management
6.Urban Area: It is the 7 districts of Bangladesh; Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Sylhet.
Insufficient sewage system and sanitation
Drinkable water insufficiency
Apart from dealing with climate changing and disaster challenges, the plan emphasizes on these hot spots to have an integrated and comprehensive solution towards the vision.
Delta Plan 2100 brief plan and presented previews are published by Government. The links are following.
Bangladesh has been providing shelter to Rohingya refugees since 1978. Rohingya refugees are the stateless race of Rakhine State within Myanmar and share international boundary with southern part of Bangladesh. However, before 1962, they were recognized as one of the ethnic groups of Myanmar privileged with all the opportunities same as other citizens. Their ancestors are believed to be the Sunni Muslims of Arakan from Arabs, Moors, Turks, Persians, Moguls and Pathans. Since the World War II, they have suffered from abuse. In 1947 according to Human Rights Watch, representative leaders of Rohingya requested President Jinnah of Pakistan to incorporate northern Arakan into East Pakistan. The proposal cut a great impact upon them seemed as untrustworthy which followed racial discrimination, torment such as physical abuse, extra judicial execution, religious persecution, etc. and persecution to carry unpaid work force, inhumane labor, land confiscation and extortion. They suffered from restriction to move along country, participate in public service, residence rights, secondary and tertiary education with handful facilities. As a result, Bangladesh faced three major influxes of Rohingya refugees with the hope of living, overcoming from all the torments and above all leading human life with basic necessities.
Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh:
Recent and third major influx has been started from August 2017. From then more than 600,000 refugees have taken shelter and the total population has crossed 800,000 according to the research findings of Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). ISCG has been publishing “Situation Update: Rohingya Refugee Crisis” once in a week describing population in different camps. Sudden influx of this huge population is too much to address by the government and even for the national and international organization.
Although Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (MFDM) and different organizations are assisting refugees continuously by providing makeshift camps beside two registered camps, they are overwhelmed with the extensive numbers. As a result, more than 176,000 refugees are building new spontaneous camps in different places of Cox’s Bazar. Most of the spontaneous camps are situated in reserved forest and hilly areas of Ukhia. They are building shelter by clearing forest trees and leveling the sloped hill. Whenever, they get the chances to move to makeshift camps where more reliefs and aids are available, they are abandoning the spontaneous camps. Most distressing issue is that they are residing and taking shelter in these spontaneous settlements for one to two weeks with their own effort and destroying the forest and leaving great deal of environmental consequences.
Habitation Location and Pattern:
The following map represents the population of refugees living in different areas and types of camps in Ukhia and Teknaf. The map is prepared focusing on the issue of habitation concern of Forum for Physical Development of Bangladesh associated with Rohingya refugee asylum.
Map Prepared: Author (2017)
Population Data Source: ISCG (2017)
Map Source: LGED (2008)
Forest Impact Information source: Khan, Uddin & Haque (2012),Mahmud (2017)
At first six spontaneous settlements were built by refugees, Burmapara, Moinerghona, Hakimpara, Thangkhali, Rubber Garden and Roikhong. There has been a new spontaneous settlement, Chakmarkul in Teknaf. After the expansion of Kutupalong and Balukhali makeshift camps, the two camps including Rubber Garden is now known as Kutupalong Expansion Site. Most of the refugees are convinced to move to this site from others. The map shows the incoming and outgoing pattern of refugees for different camps by the arrows. From Moinerghona almost 50,000 refugees have moved within two weeks and destroyed forest. All data consisting camp location and population are monitored and recorded by ISCG.12,000 refugees have moved from Shamlapur and cut 1000 tress of reserved forest. Thus destroyed 15 years project outcome within seven days. This not only increases chances of land slide but also vulnerability of human life. The findings has been came out from the survey of Mahmud and he mentioned that the refugees have no other choice but cutting trees for building house and managing fuel alternative as the reliefs are either unavailable or insufficient.
Rohingya Asylum in Spatial and Environmental Perspective:
Rohingya issues have been a major concern for last 39 years. The government provide asylum to them to reserve Human Right Convention but steps should be taken with care as the asylum has great deal of impact on the spatial and environmental perspective.
Impact on Hill Geography and Increased Vulnerability: Rohingya are taking asylum by destructing reserved forest and cutting sloped hill in plain land. The hills of Chittagong district are made of crumby soil. The soil is clay loamy in character in comparatively leveled ground and sandy loam to coarse sand in hilly area. The soil is graded into sandstone. Average annual rainfall is 130 to 940 mm in Teknaf and 3490 mm highest including Ukhia. Average annual humidity is 27% to 99%. The heavy rainfall and flash flood causes the upper soil to loosen it strength and the underlining soil layer becomes unable to carry the upper layer of soil. Ad hoc deforestation and soil leveling cause landslides and soil disruption. Extensive use and pressure in hilly area for the intense density of living population impacts the soil carrying capacity of asylums built upon the hilly area. The material used to build dwelling is also not sustainable for hills. Polythene sheets are destructive in nature and also incapable to sustain the climate of hills. Registered camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara, unregistered camps in Taal, Balukhali, even newly allotted 2000 acres of area for Rohingya, all have built upon the reserved forest or hilly area. According to Environment Conservation Act 1995, all the natural resources must be preserved. Violation of this rule has severe consequences of hill slide.
Environmental Degradation: The Rohingya asylum is poorly supported for proper sanitation as the refugees are lakhs in number. In the registered camp of Kutupalong and Nayapara the ratio of latrine provided for human is 1:20 and 1:25 respectively according to UNHCR. To support recent influx of emergency latrines have been built in makeshift camps. Yet, refugees are dependent on forest to abandon human waste. This will interfere the acidic properties of hill soil. Human wastes in this extensive amount damage the soil chemical constitution balance as well as impair aesthetical balance. Providing sanitation facilities in hill is much difficult and need more precaution with specific design.
Impact on Biodiversity and Ecology: Natural water sources available near Kutupalong and Rakhaiyang are continuously getting polluted by the human waste and refugee’s extensive use as they have very few water from the authority for daily use. The minerals are damaged and so does the biodiversity. People dig deep hole in the hills to find water. Deforestation and soil erosion of hill has become a common problem for digging hole in improvised manner. As tube-wells and ground sources are scarce, purified water and rain water harvesting are possible solution.
The hill tracks are mostly recognized as pathway of elephant and also major species of lizards, frogs, snakes and birds. The asylum has great deal of negative impact by destructing the biodiversity and resources. Area was declared reserved forest for special species and shrubs that were necessary for protection of environment of sloped area constituted with loamy soil. Research has shown that Rohingya refugees are responsible for destruction of these shrubs at about 70% rate in 2010 in Kutupalong, Nayapara and Leda camp. The consequences will result in possible extinction of any species which may change ecology.
Impact on Natural Resource: Cox’s Bazar is a great potential for tourist attraction. Ill maintained refugees are a great threat for this. Present Kutupalong and Nayapara registered camps for resettlement plan of Rohingya in 2006 are established on the reserved forest with valuable natural resources, flora and fauna. Unregistered camps such as Taal camp is also within reserved forest area. Rohingya refugees are continuously cutting forest trees to make shelter or store for fuel. Even, large tracks of forest have been cleared to earn money for smuggling. UNHCR used to provide fuel relief till 2004. After that the deforestation has increased. Investigation has also found out the illegal deforestation and woods have used for business to make furniture, boat and simply sell them as fire wood in market to earn livelihood. Research conducted by Ahamed, Hossain and Hoque in 2011 and Rahman and Hossain in 1994 showed that forest and natural trees have been destructed in Teknaf only by refugee.
Table: Forest destruction caused by Rohingya refugees in different time period
Source: Ahamed, Hossain and Hoque (2011)
Another research carried out by Khan, Uddin, and Haque in 2012 to illustrate scenario of unregistered refugees who have no aid from any organization showed that the 92.5% dependent directly and completely for livelihood, fuel, food, housing construction and medicinal purposes. Illegal forest destruction was carried out by 22% refugee households in Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS). After second influx, in 1992, reserved forest of TWS dropped to 55% and 6% in 2006. Recent influxes are supported by asylum in Ukhia near Whykong Range that posses 65% reserved forest before the third influx. It is obvious that the asylum action without precaution like previous will be the reason of future destruction soon.
Severe difficulties have been reported regarding land claim in TWS. Research findings of Khan, Uddin, Khan and Haque also concluded, unregistered households of refugees living in Leda and Kerentoly camps occupy .15 ha forest land on an average. .09 ha is directly encroached and .06 ha is rented from local people. They claim to have ownership of that forest land according to the tradition or fashion hoist by local people after few years of possession. This type of land tenure ship will be the cause of rigorous problems in future. The opinion of forest officer Ali Kabir has been reported to the article of Radio Free Asia about the circumstances of forest and natural resource in Cox’s Bazar after the influx. 1625 acre forestland in Ukhia and 875 acres same in Teknaf have been occupied by the refugees. Forest resources worth 1.5 billion Bangladeshi Tk have been destroyed according to Ministry of Environment and Forest.
Above discussion illustrates that concern is urgent as soon as possible to ensure habitation facilities compatible with environmental and spatial perspective. If the steps are not taken with care the asylum action will be the reason of many problems for our nation.