WHAT MAKES US PROUD IN DECEMBER ?
ON November 11, 1970, the coastal region of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was devastated by one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in recorded history with the loss of over 500,000 human lives. A BBC reporter visited a remote island in the affected region seven days after the devastation. He found no houses, no food and no drinking water in the entire island. No relief team visited the area. He saw a barren island with a few people roaming around aimlessly. “How could these people survive for seven days without any relief?” He wondered in a BBC programme which I watched in London soon after the cyclone. Then he himself gave the answer. “The Bangalis alone know how to survive under such conditions.”
In a nutshell, the incident depicts our national character. Our resilience in difficult times and dynamism in adaptation have no parallel. We survived many calamities like cyclones, floods, wars and famines. We passed through many months of political unrest. We have corruption at all levels of the administration. Our healthcare, though improving, is not up to international standards. We do not have enough qualified teachers at schools. Yet, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in both economic and social sectors.
Our farmers now produce enough food for 166 million people while they had difficulty in feeding 71 million in 1974. They have no fixed work hours or holidays and they often work under very adverse weather conditions. They are mostly illiterate. Yet they know how to operate power tillers, diesel engines and water pumps. They also maintain their machineries practically without the help of a mechanic. Unfortunately, they do not get proper prices for their produce.
The textile and garment sector of Bangladesh employs 4.4 million workers and earns over $ 24.5 billion annually in spite of two major setbacks — the Tazreen Fashions fire that killed 112 workers and the Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,138. The garment workers come mostly from a rural background and often walk miles to work. They live in slums and work 12 hours a day on average without commensurate salaries and appropriate working conditions. Our expatriates now earn $ 14 billion annually. They work very hard, often under adverse conditions, and live in unhygienic conditions for years with meager salaries. They are the drivers of our economic boom. Our hats are off to them.
Our annual GDP growth rate is over 6% and is likely to be higher in the future. With a life expectancy of 69.5 years, a gender gap index of 0.6973 and a child mortality rate (under 5) of 41 deaths per 1,000 live births, Bangladesh is far ahead of India “in every aspect of Human Development Index,” according to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. A report of The Guardian forecast that Bangladesh’s economy might overtake those of western countries by 2050.
Bangladesh has a glorious history. The language movement of 1952, the War of Independence of 1971 and the sacrifices of three million martyrs make any Bangladeshi proud. We pride ourselves on our rich language, literature and culture. We are proud of Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of the world’s largest NGO, Brac, and Dr. F. R. Khan, the designer of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) of Chicago, who is regarded as the “Einstein of structural engineering.’”
Mohammad Kaikobad sacrificed his life in his abortive attempt to rescue Shaheena, a garment worker, trapped under the rubbles of the Rana Plaza building. Musa Ibrahim is the first Bangladeshi mountaineer and Nishat Majumder the first Bangladeshi woman to reach the summit of the Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Wasfia Nazreen, a female mountaineer and activist, scaled six of the seven continental summits as part of her “Bangladesh on Seven Summits” campaign. The Bangladesh cricket team recently whitewashed Zimbabwe in both test and one-day series. We have numerous professors in many prestigious universities in North America and Europe. Our scientists and engineers are doing extremely well in renowned high-tech organisations like Microsoft and Intel.They all make us proud. We have reasons to be proud in remembrance of our victory on December 16, 1971.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of Bangladesh: A Perspective of Dynamic Resilience.
DECEMBER 16, 2014