Natural Disaster


Original article here.

Felani wore her gold bridal jewelry as she crouched out of sight inside the squalid concrete building. The 15-year-old’s father, Nurul Islam, peeked cautiously out the window and scanned the steel and barbed-wire fence that demarcates the border between India and Bangladesh. The fence was the last obstacle to Felani’s wedding, arranged for a week later in her family’s ancestral village just across the border in Bangladesh.

There was no question of crossing legally — visas and passports from New Delhi could take years — and besides, the Bangladeshi village where Islam grew up was less than a mile away from the bus stand on the Indian side. Still, they knew it was dangerous. The Indians who watched the fence had a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Islam had paid $65 to a broker who said he could bribe the Indian border guard, but he had no way of knowing whether the money actually made it into the right hands.

Father and daughter waited for the moment when the guards’ backs were turned and they could prop a ladder against the fence and clamber over. The broker held them back for hours, insisting it wasn’t safe yet. But eventually the first rays of dawn began to cut through the thick morning fog. They had no choice but to make a break for it.

Islam went first, clearing the barrier in seconds. Felani wasn’t so lucky. The hem of her salwar kameez caught on the barbed wire. She panicked, and screamed. An Indian soldier came running and fired a single shot at point-blank range, killing her instantly. The father fled, leaving his daughter’s corpse tangled in the barbed wire. It hung there for another five hours before the border guards were able to negotiate a way to take her down; the Indians transferred the body across the border the next day. “When we got her body back the soldiers had even stolen her bridal jewelry,” Islam told us, speaking in a distant voice a week after the January incident.

Other border fortifications around the world may get all the headlines, but over the past decade the 1,790-mile fence barricading the near entirety of the frontier between India and Bangladesh has become one of the world’s bloodiest. Since 2000, Indian troops have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people like Felani there.

In India, the 25-year-old border fence — finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion — is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbor that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture — and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

India did not always view its eastern neighbor in such hostile terms. When Bengali-speaking nationalists in what was then East Pakistan won Bangladesh’s independence in a bloody 1971 civil war, they did it armed with Indian weapons. But the war destroyed Bangladesh’s already anemic infrastructure and left more than a million dead, presaging the new country’s famously unlucky future. Bangladesh is now home to 160 million people crammed into an area smaller than Iowa; 50 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and the country bottoms out the list on most major international health indicators.

As bad as things are, they can get plenty worse. Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 swollen rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 percent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh’s rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country’s fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a “threat multiplier,” sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it’s no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

India has a long history of accepting refugees, from the Tibetan government in exile to Sri Lankans fleeing a drawn-out civil war. Faced with the threat of mass migration from the east, however, New Delhi has drawn a line in the sand. Rather than prepare expensive and possibly permanent resettlement zones, India began erecting a fence, complete with well-armed guards, in 1986. After the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in 1998, the program was ramped up to placate anti-Muslim sentiment among the party faithful. The fence grew longer and the killings more frequent. After years of complaints from Bangladeshi politicians, India made promises on several occasions to switch to nonlethal weaponry, but has rarely followed through on them.

By next year, every available crossing point between India and Bangladesh will have been blocked off by the fence. But while tightened security has made the border more dangerous, it hasn’t actually made it much more secure. More than 100 border villages operate as illicit transit points through which thousands of migrants pass daily. Each of these villages has a “lineman” — what would be called a coyote on the U.S.-Mexican border — who facilitates the smuggling, paying border guards from both notoriously corrupt countries to look the other way when people pass through.

“Entire villages can cross the border with the right payoffs,” says Kirity Roy, head of the Indian human rights organization Masum, which together with Human Rights Watch released a bleak report on the border situation in December. No one is likely to manage the crossing without a lineman’s help, Roy explains. “If someone tries to sneak past the linemen without paying, they will find them out and tell the border guards to shoot them.” An inefficient bribe system, he says, explains how border guards could kill 1,000 unarmed people in the last decade.

The ugly immigration politics on the western side of the fence, where popular sentiment runs decisively in favor of walling off Bangladesh, have made a bad situation worse. The New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses estimates that there are already 10 to 20 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India. (By comparison, there are an estimated 11.2 million illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.)

The rise of global Islamist militancy in recent years has worsened the xenophobic streak in India’s already dicey relations with its Muslim neighbors, and Indian politicians have been quick to capitalize on it. By 2009, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was declaring that Bangladeshis have “no business to come to India.” The opposition BJP isn’t rolling out the welcome mat either: Tathagata Roy, the party’s leader in the Bangladesh-bordering state of West Bengal, has called for lining the border with antipersonnel mines. If the predictions come true for immigration from Bangladesh, Roy says, India’s population of 900 million Hindus will have no choice but “to convert or jump into the sea.”

The border itself has hardened into a grim killing field. Although border shootings are officially recorded by Indian officials as “shot in self-defense,” the Masum and Human Rights Watch report found that none of the victims was armed with anything more dangerous than a sickle, and it accused the Indian Border Security Force of “indiscriminate killing and torture.”

Most of the dead are farmers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In January, Bangladeshi soldiers told us, six Indian soldiers lured a Bangladeshi farmer named Shahjahan Ali into a swath of no man’s land along the border. They stripped him naked, beat him, broke his legs, and mutilated his genitals before throwing him back into Bangladesh, where he bled to death from his injuries. “It’s like they are drunk,” says the Bangladeshi soldier who found Ali. “Like they are on drugs.” Powerless to fire back without creating an international incident with their vastly stronger neighbor, the Bangladeshi border guards can do little more than pick up the bodies.

Felani’s death, however, galvanized Bangladesh. Graphic photos of her dead body made the front pages of newspapers across the country, and political parties posted her picture with the caption “Stop Border Killing!” on seemingly every available wall in the capital city of Dhaka. Shamsher Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary and current vice chairman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, says, “The fence is our Berlin Wall.” The shooting seemed to have given India pause as well. In March, New Delhi once again agreed to strip its border guards of live ammunition, and for once actually did it. For the first month in almost a decade, Indian troops didn’t kill anyone on the border.

But by April the Indian soldiers had reloaded, shooting a Bangladeshi cattle trader and three others in separate incidents. It was a bleak reminder that while the fence itself may be a flimsy thing, the tensions that make it into a killing zone are remarkably durable.

An earthquake just hit Dhaka. The magnitude was 5.6 in richter scale. Everybody I know in Dhaka felt the jolt. Hence I re-post this blog two years two months later.

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Thousands more die in Indonesia. Earthquake strikes once again. Poor Iran, Indonesia, these countries lie on the fault line. Historically most of the earthquakes happened on the fault lines. California is also situated on a tectonic plate border, the fault line. And all the structures in California are built earthquake safe.

Here is a map of all the major and monor tectonic plates of the world.

platemap

If you can locate Bangladesh in the world map, you will see two plate bounderies, i.e. two fault lines cross Bangladesh. On the noth, the Indian plate clashes with the Eurasian plate and on the east, Indian plate borders Australian plate and continues to Burma plate.

I am not a geology student and won’t pretend to know or understand the basics of the importance of these plate bounderies and earthquake possibilities.

Different newspaper reports inform us that many scientists have been warning about the probability of a devastating 8-9 richter scale catastrophic earthquake in the northeastern and southeastern parts of Bangladesh.

So, major earthquake is also possible in Bangladesh. Are we ready?

Can the authority in Bangladesh speak out with certainty that at least one, only one single rsidential apartment in Bangladesh have been bult to withstand a7.0- 9.0 richter scale earthquake?

We we talk about issues, a variety of issues. There is a word in english dictionery, ‘Priority’. Should we, as a nation, relearn the meaning and implication of the word?

[blip.tv ?posts_id=518128&dest=-1]

I saw Elachi’r Ma several days ago. She was in TV news. She probably will be in late twenties or early thirties. She was wearing what all Bangladeshi poor women wear. A plain grey/green Sari with Black Par and a Nakful. She was looking exceedingly fresh, most likely she just had bath before talking to TV crew.

And the poor people of Bangladesh, My God, are very camera smart. They will talk clearly and in an articulate manner without any shyness, nervousness or hesitation.

The TV crew wanted to talk to Elachi’r Ma because only half an hour before arrival of the TV crew, Elachi’r Ma buried the decomposed body of her six year old daughter. Her daughter is one of those killed in Cyclone Sidr.
(more…)

Storm 1991 victimsidr6.jpg

Urir Char 1991                            Ashar Char 2007

Your help is needed to feed the cyclone ravaged hungry children, women and men. Footage from Bangladesh TV channels have been very disturbing to watch lately. Poor people, as always, have been worst affected. Men lost his teenage son, mother waiting for her missing children. Over that they are all hungry.  All they need some rice to cook and eat.  Please donate. Even $1 from you can buy a family much needed rice.

Follow this link for ways to help.

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[Source: the Daily Star]

1. Bangladesh Ravaged By Massive Cyclone Sidr . Hundreds of human lives are lost. The death toll is rising every passing hour as news keeps trickling in.

2. So far 587 687 693 1000 1595 3114 are believed/reported dead.

3. Hundreds of densely inhabited islands around the Genges delta and northern Bay of Bengal so far remain unaccounted for.

4. Unprecedented damage to property and cattlehead are being reported from Bhola ( eye of 1970 Bhola Cyclone) and other southern districts in Bangladesh. Aerial footages show that miles after miles, villages after villages have been turned into a total rubble. It feels like 10,000 tornados simulteniously ravaged a 200 mile radius area.

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Photo: AFP

5. While all form of communication including electricity, telecommunication, road-river transportation remain disrupted in the southern Bangladesh, rest of Bangladesh remains under darkness

6. As the category 4 cyclone had its landfall near Sundarban, irreparable damage have been done to the flora and fauna in the Sundarbans. It will take many years to know how mnay of several hundred Bengal tigers survived the 20 feet tidal waves.

7. Although the capital city of Dhaka ( around 100 miles inland) historically was never affected by bay of Bengal storms, this time Dhaka has been badly affected. Several death have already been reported from Dhaka, mostly by tree or building collapse. [ On apersonal note: a very nostalgic and loved spot of mine was the bat tala, benyan Shade inside PG Hospital / BSMMU campus. That 100 year old benyan tree has been uprooted by the storm, keeping a security guard trapped under it for four hours]. Hundreds of thoyusands of much needed greenery around bangladesh has been destroyed. Dhaka has no power supply all day. Non stop rain and sudden drop in temperature have made the life of the homeless people more miserable.

Update 1:

This email was sent from Dhaka earlier tonight,

… entire country is without electricity for last 24 hrs! We started getting power for an hour from 10:30PM tonight & no cable connection is available . Dhaka is like a deserted ghost city with everything closed even including the gas stations ! I tried to get to the net from my pocket PC couple of times but couldn’t get any net connectivity ! Lets hope that things are back to normal tomorrow .

Update 2:

Rezwan has an excellent round up of experiences from Bangladesh and analysis from abroad.

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