This year, many farmers in the haor areas of Sunamganj's Jagannathpur upazila have still not been able to prepare boro paddy seedbeds due to "water stagnation in their farmlands".
In Nalua Haor, the largest among the swamps, farmers say they are facing real difficulties in draining out the water from their fields mainly because of a blockade at the Bhurakhali sluice gate by fish cultivators.
This blockade, the farmers say, has been posing as the biggest hurdle for them to prepare the seedbeds for cultivating Boro paddy this winter for summer harvest. Seedbed finishing is the final step in soil preparation for sowing crops.
"This year, boro crop cultivation has been hit as the tenants of Hamhami Jalmahal have blocked the waterway with bamboos and nets for fishing," says Mia, a farmer from Bhurakhali village.
Another farmer, Nagendra Das, a resident of Dasnowagaon village, claims that waterlogging has rendered his 1.2 acres of land in the haor uncultivable. Despite several complaints, he alleges, authorities are yet to redress their problems.
Also Read: 90 pc haor paddy harvested: Minister
"Cultivation this year has been disrupted due to the non-discharge of water from farmlands," says Randhir Das, a member of the local union council.
When contacted, Jagannathpur Upazila Agriculture Officer Shawkat Osman Majumder admitted that he was apprised of the problems by the local farmers.
“Some 6,500 hectares of land are cultivated in Nalua Haor every year. Anyway, I have asked the lessees to remove the dam as soon as I got the news of the disruption. If the lessees do not remove the dam, we will take legal action," he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent suspension of export and import for several months caused a 2 percent drop in the number of ships docking at Chattogram Port in 2020 compared to the previous calendar of 2019.
The number of ships dropping anchor in the Chattogram Port was 3,807 in 2019, but came down to 3,728 in 2020, according to the Chattogram Port Authority.
“The export-import declined last year due to corona. A total of 28,39,977 TEU (Twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers were handled in 2020, whereas the number was 30,88,187 containers in 2019,” said Director (Traffic) of Chattogram Seaport Enamul Karim.
However, the country’s largest seaport had managed to keep up 3.4 percent growth in terms of loading and unloading of container ships in the last fiscal that ended in June 2020, though the outbreak of Covid-19 started in the country in March.
There was lockdown in the country throughout April and May and almost all work remained halted. So a smaller number of ships anchored in the port as the import of goods declined, said Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority Omar Faruk
“Despite of it, the growth of handling goods was 3.4 percent in the 2019-20 fiscal year,” he told UNB, adding that some 10.16 crore tonnes (exactly 10,15,65,272) of goods were handed in the port in the 2019-20 fiscal year, but the amount was some 9.82 crore tonnes (precisely 9,82,40,655) of goods in 2018-19 fiscal year.
Besides, the seaport faced different problems last year, including severe backlog of containers caused by slow delivery, congestion of ships in the outer anchorage and evacuation of jetties due to the threat of cyclones.
Some 98 percent of sea containers (goods) is transported through Chattogram seaport to and from the country. Some 12 jetties are used in the loading and unloading process of the ships.
On average 20-30 ships every day are waiting in the outer harbor for anchoring in the jetties during the normal time, but only 8 to 10 ships can be unloaded each day.
Earlier, the Chattogram seaport was on the verge of dropping out of the list of the world’s "three millionaire ports", i.e. those that handle 3 million TEU containers annually, due to decline in the country’s import and export through sea amid the Covid-19 pandemic, said Enamul Karim. There are 60 such ports in the world.
The final figures for the year show the port has indeed failed to reach the 3 million mark in 2020, having handled just over 2.8 million such containers.
Convenor of the port users’ forum and president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mahbubul Alam said the severity of Covid-19 is still high in the European countries, which are major markets of Bangladeshi products. Even lockdown has been enforced again in many European countries, which badly affects the container handling of the Chattogram port.
The Chattogram Port is the 64th busiest container port among 100 top ports across the world, according to the 2019 edition of Lloyd’s List of One Hundred Ports.
A resident of Badaghat village in Sunamganj's Tahirpur upazila, Fazlu Mia has always been fascinated by birds and the idea of entrepreneurship.
In 2019, Fazlu, then a small-time tea seller, liquidated almost all his savings to buy a pair of pigeons of local variety for Tk 800. And soon this humble villager turned his hobby into a full-fledged business -- that of pigeon rearing.
Also read: Farming pigeons brings Afzal a fortune
"On an average, I spend Tk 5,000-6,000 a month on pigeons, that's on food and medicines, and earn a profit of Tk 25,000-30,000 per mensem by selling the birds," Fazlu says.
The 30-year-old does not have any formal education, and that's why he started selling tea at Badaghat Bazar. "I used to toil day and night to ensure two square meals a day for my family. Now, I am a successful entrepreneur," he says.
Fazlu owns a small pigeon farm on the premises of his home, big enough to house 100 pairs of 15-20 different species, including Homer, Red Siraji, Giribaj, Moyurponkhi and China. "My wife is also actively involved in our business," Fazlu says.
Every day, people from different parts of the district flock to Fazlu's farm to purchase pigeons. "These birds are prone to viruses and contagious diseases. So, they need a very clean environment and we ensure that in our farm," he says.
Recently, Fazlu also took a loan of Tk 1 lakh from a local NGO, ‘Asha’, to expand his pigeon farm. He dreams of owning a large-scale business. "The government must take necessary steps to ensure hassle-free loans for entrepreneurs like us," he says.
Also read: A youth in Kurigram chases his dream
Fazlu is admired by many in the village. “He is a bird lover and inspiration for youths in the village," says Mohammad Shah Alam, a local doctor.
Also read: The story of a self-made man
As vaccinating millions of people across the country to control Covid-19 looks to be a daunting task, the government has prepared a masterplan and necessary guidelines to do the job properly.
The masterplan will soon be submitted to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for approval to begin the country’s biggest-ever vaccination programme in early 2021, said officials at the Ministry of Health.
In an interview with UNB, Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque said they have a target of vaccinating around 5.5 crore people by over one year’s time depending on the billability of the covid-19 vaccine.
Vaccination may start in Feb
Zahid Maleque said the government has already taken necessary preparations to ensure proper distribution of the vaccine among people based on priority and necessity.
He said the hope that the vaccine will be available in the country by the end of January or early February. “Once the approval process of the WHO and other organisations is completed, the work on vaccination will start in the country at the end of January or the beginning of February.”
However, an official at the ministry, wishing anonymity, said they are getting ready to start the Covid-19 vaccination programme in early February as they may not receive it by January.
When and how vaccine to come
As per their plan, the Health Minister said, three crore doses of vaccines of Oxford/AstraZeneca will reach the country in different phases by the next six months.
Maleque said the health sector has sincerely been working on all the procedures -- from signing contracts to the immunisation process.
He said the number of people they are going to vaccinate will be around five and a half crores. “It’ll take six months to collect and vaccinate three crore doses of the vaccine of Oxford/AstraZeneca.
Besides, the minister said, the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation or GAVI is supposed to start giving Bangladesh vaccines for around four crore people or 20 percent of the population by May and June.
“We’ve already completed signing a deal and all other paper works to have the vaccines under the COVAX programme. So, about five and a half crores of our people will come under the vaccination by more than a year's time,” he added.
Maleque said they have made all the preparations for reaching their target of vaccinating 5.5 crores of people as early as possible. “Our expert teams are working on it properly. We also have adequate manpower to make it happen.”
Who may get it first?
The minister said a masterplan and guideline have been worked out as to how the vaccine will be given and to whom it will be given first.
He said they have already set priorities for the distribution of vaccine doses.
In the first phase, he said, health and media workers, and members of various forces will be vaccinated with the highest importance.
Who are out of the primary plan?
Maleque said half of the total population of the country is under 25 years of age while 40 percent of people are under the age of 18. “They don’t need the vaccine at the early stage.”
In addition, the minister said, about 30 lakh pregnant women and patients with some other complex diseases will not be vaccinated.
The Health Minister said the vaccine doses will be collected from Oxford and COVAX will cover the maximum people who are primarily needed.
Preservation & Transportation plan
The minister said they have taken steps for ensuring freezing facilities at the district-level hospitals for the storage of the vaccines at the required temperatures.
Besides, he said, the process of procuring cold boxes for the transportation of the vaccine is underway. “World-class labs have been set up in Bangladesh having the recognition of the WHO.”
Maleque said they have also prepared cold chains and procured cold boxes for storing the vaccine at a specific temperature.
“No chance of chaos”
“A guideline has been made on how the vaccine will be distributed. There’s no chance of any kind of chaos in the distribution of vaccines as everything will be done in accordance with the guidelines we’ve prepared,” the Minister said.
He said they have sufficient trained manpower to provide the vaccine. “The vaccine will be given by skilled manpower. “We’ve also a plan to involve the private sector in providing the vaccine.”
Maleque said the government will continue the normal vaccination activities for other diseases alongside the corona vaccine ones.
Contacted, Health Secretary Abdul Mannan said a masterplan has been worked out for carrying out the vaccination activities in a disciplined manner.
He said the masterplan will be presented to the Prime Minister soon for her approval. “Once it’s approved, the vaccination activities will be carried out accordingly.”
As per the deal with the Serum Institute of India, Mannan said Bangladesh will get three crore doses of vaccine (50 lakh doses per month) in the next six months.
In the first phase, he said 50 lakh vaccine doses will come and it will be given to 25 lakh people.
Mannan said the government is in talks with some other companies in addition to AstraZeneca to procure the vaccine.
Replying to a question, he said a guideline is being prepared on the storage and distribution of the vaccine. “Vaccination will be carried out as per the guideline.”
Asked about how many doctors, nurses and other manpower will be needed to distribute the vaccine, Mannan said they will give details about it later after the approval of the masterplan.
As we turn the calendar to usher in 2021, teachers and students of Dhaka University share their hopes and demands for the new year with UNB.
In 2021, Dhaka University is going to celebrate its Centenary. Students and teachers of the University emphasized on more Research and creating new knowledge, holding the DUCSU election and lessening academic losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Former Vice-Chancellor Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique told UNB, “I hope the university will run smoothly with a teacher-student friendly Environment. Dhaka University has a glorious past and it has been serving the nation but Covid-19 pandemic changed the situation.”
“The pandemic teaches us many things. In post-pandemic times, I hope teachers, students will work together for the welfare of the nation with their intellect and love. And University should emphasize on creating new knowledge and research,” he added.
Echoing with Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique, Dhaka University Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury said “Research is a must. Moreover, we need to focus on publication and translation of world-class literature in Bengali. This is important for creating new knowledge.”
Mentioning inadequate number of dormitories the professor said “Accommodation is the main problem. Authorities should ensure it first. Hall renovation is also needed. A number of buildings at the university are vulnerable and students live here amidst danger.”
Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury also said DUCSU election should be a routine election. “Co-curricular activities are important to flourish a student’s intellect. DUCSU can play pioneer rule here. A University’s environment will not be healthy without a student’s representative body like DUCSU.”
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations of DU said, Dhaka University going to step into hundred years. "Marking the centenary, we scheduled to organize some international conferences with noted academicians across the world. So I hope it will impact positively. In one sense, Dhaka University formed Bangladesh. But we lag behind in doing research and creating knowledge.”
The professor blamed teachers’ politics for lagging behind in research. Saying teachers are more attentive in politics not in research. “Party politics should be banned for teachers.”
Asked about DUCSU election, the professor said polling center in DUCSU elation should be set outside of the halls for free and fair election. "Meritorious students should led DUCSU not politicians,” he said.
Former Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) Vice-president Nurul Haque Nur too mentioned accommodation problem is the main problem saying, “Most of the University students come from middle and lower income family so it’s hard for them to manage accommodation outside of the dormitories.”
“On the occasion of DU centenary, the University authority has taken a master plan for its infrastructural development including creating new dormitories. I hope the authority will implement it immediately," he added.
He however urged students to be aware about their rights and to protest to attain them.
Samajtantrik Chhatra Front President Salman Siddique also mentioned accommodation problem is the main problem. He demanded to reopen residential dormitories maintaining social distance.
Saddam Hussain, General Secretary of Bangladesh Chhatra League, DU unit, stressed speedy implementation of the ‘Master Plan’ undertaken in September, 2020 for infrastructure development.
Mentioning academic losses due to the pandemic, Saddam Hussain said, “The university authority has to take steps to avoid session jam and to minimize student’s academic losses.”
Saddam also said, “DUCSU election should be held in 2021, the year of hundred years of the University also continuing centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
“Evening courses should be stopped and the university authority has to implement their plan to suspend evening courses” Saddam said. ‘The University should not be like a corporate institution."
Rakib Hasan, Convener of Dhaka University Chhatra Dal told UNB, “I hope DU authority will take necessary steps to minimize our academic losses due to pandemic. Special care will be expected from teachers to lessen 1 year lost from our lives.”
Mentioning student politics in the campus, JCD leader hoped that New Year will be year of political co existence on the campus. “Every political party should be able to exercise their political rights in a fearless environment.”
He however stressed the need of increasing quality research to make the University world-class. Teachers should pay more attention in doing research not in politics, he said.
Mohiuddin Mahi, a third year student of Mass Communication and Journalism of the University said, "Accommodation problem is main problem for students. In the New Year it is expected that crisis in the dorms will be solved. Moreover, the University should create various opportunities for students to flourish their intellect."
A world-class, spacious library should immediately be built as students face a severe crisis in the central library, Mahi said.
Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor Prof Akhtaruzzaman said, “Overcoming the obstacles of 2020, New Year will be a year of possibility,”
Expressing firm determination to take the university forward on the path of new possibilities in the New Year, the VC said various programs have been taken at the University on the occasion of Mujib Year, University Centenary and Golden Jubilee of Independence.