Cold Wave Kills Poor and Children in Bangladesh

cold wave - poor suffersAs colour photos on the front pages of newspapers reveal our children, especially of the low income group and those who are truly poor are suffering from the various cold-related ailments. In some cases children are also going down with pneumonia. Cold afflictions cause the children great suffering and, in the case of pneumonia, may even lead to death. All these are a direct result of the bitterly cold winter in Bangladesh this season. Moreover, the cold spell have made the plight of these children more miserable even during the convalescent period.

At least 51 people, mostly children and the elderly, died in the last three days from the cold front that swept much of Bangladesh with chill wind and heavy fog amid overcast conditions (Daily Star, 3. 01. 04).

The miseries of the people, especially the poor, have increased manifold with the cold spell persisting for days together. The situation has been aggravated further because of the fact that they have to venture out in search of work. The children, particularly those belonging to lower income groups, are suffering from various diseases of the respiratory tracts including pneumonia. It is, however, heartening to learn that many social welfare organisations have begun to distribute warm cloths among the cold-hit people living in the fringes. But, it is felt that they need more help, and the sooner it reaches them the better.

As the persistent cold wave sweeps the entire length and breadth of the country, those ill-prepared for the biting chill are on the receiving end. We all know who these sufferers are. Euphemistically called the low-income groups but actually more than half of the population have little means to fend off the cold that has taken the country under its current severe spell. No doubt the poorest among the poor are the worst sufferers –and they suffer doubly on account of winter. Physically they are not strong enough—at times diseases and malnutrition make them even more vulnerable —and exposed they must be to the hostile weather. Apart from the habitual physical defence system, they cannot count on any support mechanism to fight the cold and diseases.

It is only natural therefore that the casualty count will be high among the most vulnerable group. Already about a hundred people have fallen victims to the current cold wave all across the country. The weather men predict that the weather will improve to a certain degree from today. If past predictions are any guide, they might well be wrong to give an assurance of good weather. This is just the third week of the Bangla month of Poush and there is no reason why the winter will slacken its grip so soon. Last year was the coldest year in a long time and no one gave us any warning about the extreme cold. We have been hearing from many quarters, particularly the environment experts, that the earth is getting warmer. When mercury dropped to a new low last year, the general conclusion was that this year the winter would be less cold-- if not pleasant.

If we take it for guaranteed, we are surely in for trouble. The earth may get warmer anywhere but not in Bangladesh. Our recent experiences however make us wonder if the country’s weather is turning extreme on both counts—hot and cold. Whatever may be the case, we must get prepared for a particularly bad winter this time. The government and a few other not so known organisations have come up with some relief materials, including blankets. But those are proving too little, too late for many. The body count is likely to go up further. More has to be done for the vulnerable groups. Quite a number of NGOs are finding it difficult to run their own business and they are shying away from relief operation for understandable reasons. But there are others who do not feel the heat of government wrath and yet they have no participation in relief work for the cold victims. This is unexplainable.

The cold wave will have its fall-outs as well. It will have a tremendous impact on our crop production. Combined with the government’s wrong policy on seed preservation, protection and import, the wintry chill is going to wreak havoc on a number of crops. It will tell on the country’s economy. There should be an investigation if the importers of seeds are behind the scandal concerning its low quality and deliberate damage to ensure import and a hefty profit margin. Farmers will have their economy shattered in the process and they will become even more vulnerable next year. This is a cruel thing to do for the farmers. If the country’s economy becomes import-led instead of production-led, the standard of life of the poor will only go down and they will fall victims to elements.

Cold claimed seven more people across the country, raising the death toll to 327 over the last two weeks. Temperature again fell down by one to two degrees Celsius at some places Friday night, the met office said. The met office reported that the lowest temperature on Saturday, 7.2 degrees Celsius, was in Chuadanga and Ishwardi. The lowest temperature in the country on Friday was 8.8 degrees Celsius, the met office said. Chittagong had 12.7 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Rajshahi 9 degrees, Khulna 10 degrees, Barisal 10 degrees and Sylhet 13 degrees (New Age December 11, 2003).

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