Archive for June, 2007

Head for the hills – Bangladesh is going nuclear

Everyone knows about how the chronic power-cuts are crippling Bangladesh, but the proposed solution could cripple the world – Bangladesh has apparently been granted approval by the IAEA for a nuclear power plant.

It’s not a joke. But it should be.

Given how farcically and tragically incompetant the government is here, certainly the old corrupt one, I wouldn’t trust an AA battery to Bangladesh, much less a nuclear power-plant. As my friend put it yesterday, who was it who looked at a map of Asia and thought: “I wonder where to put this incredibly dangerous and sophisticated piece of nuclear technology….? Ah yes, the Desh”. They’re going to have flourescent blood on their hands.

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What kind of culture embraces wrestling, but rejects toilet paper?

Last weekend I was finally able to get out of my office and go and conduct some field research, a Participatory Rural Appraisal, to use the technical name. My NGO got the funding from VSO, and we’re aiming to go to 15 indigenous community villages all around Sylhet division, which is an area almost the size of South Wales. It’s an essential survey for us, as it will able us to obtain crucial information on the situation of our beneficiries, so as to be able to design our projects better. I just wish it wasn’t during the monsoon.

  Continue reading ‘What kind of culture embraces wrestling, but rejects toilet paper?’

Waterworld

I left my damp and mould-ridden bungalow three days ago to go and deliver a workshop in Dhaka, and coming back last night first noticed the river being even higher than before, and over its bank. Then as I was getting closer to my house, I noticed the puddles had turned in to ponds. And as I turned on to my street, I realised that the road had become a river. As they say in Bangla, the situation was bhalo na.   Continue reading ‘Waterworld’

Bangladesh – Five months of Emergency, and our responsibility to speak out.

[This has been cross-posted in The Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free’ section here.]

Monday 11th June marks the fifth month since the military took over and imposed a State of Emergency in Bangladesh. Through the civilian caretaker administration, which the military ‘support’, some level of social stability has been achieved, much-needed reforms set in motion, and with the newly empowered Anti-Corruption Commissioner labelling ‘at least 99%’ of Bangladeshi politicians corrupt, hundreds of senior Bangladeshi political figures have been jailed.

Yet this security has come at the cost of many essential freedoms, including the suspension of all political activities, and the intimidation of the domestic media against meaningful scrutiny. The military is essentially operating with total impunity. The most recent report by the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar stated that during the first 130 days of the State of Emergency, 96 people were killed by law-enforcement personnel, including 14 deaths through torture, seven of which were committed by the Army or ‘Joint Forces’.

Continue reading ‘Bangladesh – Five months of Emergency, and our responsibility to speak out.’

Himal Magazine special on Bangladesh

Last month the Bangladeshi government censored the regional affairs Himal Magazine (based in Nepal) for publishing two articles critical of the military.

This month they’ve gone and done a special on Bangladesh, with some really excellent essays. Needless to say it’s completely banned here. But it’s a must-read if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Link.

(Disclosure – they also have published a small piece by me, although unfortunately it’s not very good in comparison to everyone else’s).

VSO – Volunteers Suffering Overseas

I arrived back in Sylhet on Saturday night after three weeks of working in Dhaka and Dinajpur, and was immediately hit again by the contrasting worlds that exist in one small country. I had spent most of Saturday nursing a mild but unwelcome hangover, after a big leaving party on Friday for another volunteer. It was all provided by an extremely generous British expat, who actually earns a Western salary and so could afford western treats. We ate huge amounts of delicious Chinese food in a private room, amply washed down with a free and well-stocked bar, and even the inevitable kareoke wasn’t too dire, once you substitute in enough obscenities. So all in all, it was a fun night, which could have been enjoyed anywhere in the world.

 

And then last night it was back to the reality of being a volunteer in Bangladesh. I’ve written before how this country never seems to break things to you gently, or give you a bit of contemplation or a warm-up for what’s in store. Everything here is immediate, in your face and requires instant action. I got my front door open and it smelt as if I’d walked in to a pond. Sylhet is the wettest place in Bangladesh, with around five metres of annual rain, the majority in June and July. Although that makes it mercifully cooler than Dhaka or Dinajpur, where the temperature was hitting 40, the humidity is around the 95% mark, and the inside of my house, not being lived in for three weeks, was as if it had been wiped down with a sponge.

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Alone in the countryside?

I’ve just returned to Dhaka after five days away up in the north-west of Bangladesh, very near a large town called Dinajpur. I was working for a big partner NGO of VSO Bangladesh, called Gram Bikash Kendro (GBK), who really are a development powerhouse of the region, employing over 300 staff, delivering seven big projects, working across many themes such as education, health, micro-credit, the full development monty.

I was there to help them produce a website; planning and producing thier content before another colleague comes up and designs the site. It was a good experience for me to see how big organisations are run in Bangladesh (compared to the four staff in my own NGO), everyone was very friendly and spoke decent English, so I’m happy with the experience, and hopefully they should have a functioning website within the next month.

It was hot though – Dinajpur is in the hottest region of Bangladesh, and last week, across the country, 29 people died due to the extreme weather. What made it even worse was that the power supply was really awful, blackouts for three or four hours every evening, so there was not much else to do except lie on a towel in the dark and hope to eventually get to sleep. Not exactly a lively week for me.

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