Thursday, January 12, 2012
Bangladesh as a tropical country usually enjoys a reasonable winter, but since December 7, 2011, the country has been hit by a severe cold wave with dense fog. Generally in December, the average temperature for most of the country is about 10 degrees C. But, according to the Meteorological Department, the temperature this year has been 2 to 5 degrees C lower than the normal average temperature. The current temperature of 4-6 degrees Celsius is considered to be very low for Bangladesh, and in some parts the temperature went down to 4.5 degrees C, which is, according to the Meteorological Department, the lowest-ever temperature recorded for last 45 years. Arguably, this may be a result of climate change and perhaps the developed carbon-emitting countries are to blame, but regardless of the cause, the results are ours to deal with.
Many people in our country live under the poverty line and do not have the resources to deal with this devastatingly cold weather. They do not have warm clothes or blankets, and many have no roofs over their heads.
During the 3rd week of December there was another severe cold wave, especially in the northern parts. The poorest people living there are withering away with untold sufferings. The sun has disappeared, and fog covers the sky from morning to night. Temperature goes below 8 degrees C in rural areas. In December, 12 people died due to the cold weather.
Day by day the number of patients affected by pneumonia and other cold-related diseases is increasing, especially among children and elderly people. Breast feeding has decreased. Almost all the babies under treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital are suffering from respiratory tract infections with fever.
Not only are the poorest least equipped to deal with the cold, they also have very little money to deal with cold-related illnesses. Their livelihoods also become extremely vulnerable as they depend on their ability to sell labour or agricultural/livestock produce.
Livestock are also adversely affected by the cold. Cattle are affected by coughing and lack of fodder. Milk production has decreased. Goats are also affected by colds, with nasal secretion and poor health. Poultry birds are also affected, taking in less feed and producing fewer eggs.
Fishermen are totally workless at this time.
Agricultural products are affected due to heavy fog. Potato, mustard, country bean, bottle gourd and sweet gourd have also been affected by fungicide. The seedbed of boro rice is severely damaged by foggy weather. Paddy cultivation will be late and production will be much smaller. As a result, day labourers also suffer because of this situation. There is less work for them to do, and they have neither enough warm clothes to face the cold nor support to buy warm clothes to work outside. In this circumstance, employers are also not interested to give them work now, so they are jobless. Finally, silent hunger descends on their families and further reduces their immunity or resilience to cope with the cold. After already suffering seasonal hunger (monga), they now have to suffer this severely devastating cold wave.
The pain of the poorest people caused by bone chilling cold and thick fog is immeasurable. They are yet to receive support from either the district administration or the non-government organisations. At community level, some individuals have distributed warm blankets at Shaghata, Gaibandha town. A local NGO has distributed a few hundred blankets. Another NGO has organised 5 health camps in Sundarganj upazialla to provide health services to over 500 patients, mostly children and women.
I can’t change what has happened, but I choose not to turn a blind eye to the neediest members of our community. I am writing to share with you their untold stories, and I hope you will join us to fight the cold. Surely this sort of basic problem can be overcome if we work together. Come forward…
“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger” — Elisabeth Elliot.
Marufa Haque works with EEP/shiree.