A silent famine is now prevailing in the country with majority people facing starvation due to abnormal price-hike of food items recently, said Akbar Ali Khan, a former caretaker government adviser, on Friday.
He called for government interventions to ensure access of the poor to food through multiple measures since wages were not increasing proportionately and many people remained unemployed.
‘It’s a silent famine as more people than official figure of 40 per cent living below poverty live are not in a position to buy food at so much high prices. We need immediate interventions and we have to work for long-tern food security,’ Akbar, currently the chairman of the Regulatory Reforms Commission, observed at a seminar in the city.
Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and the United Nations Development Programme jointly organised the seminar on ‘Moving Towards Sustainable Development in Bangladesh: To Meet the Challenges of the Future’.
Journalist Shawkat Mahmud said sustainable development was not an agenda of the interim government which was imposed on the Bangladeshis as part of a sophisticated imperialist design to make the country a test case of elitist governance with foreign backing. He blamed the UNDP for playing a significant role in the happenings of January 11, 2007 by issuing a letter on Bangladesh’s internal affairs.
‘Our achievements in the 15 years of democracy are not being acclaimed now. They call us corrupt and want reform without human rights. We want correction with transparency and accountability,’ said the president of the National Press Club.
Opposing immunity to lending agencies and bilateral donors, Chinmoy Mutsuddi, a former president of Environment Journalists’ Forum Bangladesh, demanded accountability for their involvement with various projects. ‘They must be accountable to people in Bangladesh, not in New York,’ he said and questioned how the UN bodies could receive money from other bilateral agencies in implementing their agendas in Bangladesh.
Asaduzzaman, research director of the institute, presented the keynote while Qamrul Islam Chowdhury, president of Environment Journalists’ Forum Bangladesh moderated the discussion held at the National Press Club.
Akbar Ali Khan reckoned depletion of farmland and water crisis to be biggest challenge Bangladesh was now facing in view of the needs of the present and future generations.
‘Time is running out for 15 crore people to ensure food security through cultivation because of land depletion. And we still have no land use policy to stop the process by putting restrictions on construction of roads and buildings,’ he said.
He also blamed poverty for causing harms to environment — a point in which development activist Farida Akhter and economist Enamul Haq gave dissenting view, saying that major culprit for causing environmental degradation was wrong approach to development, not the poor.
The RRC chairman later said to journalists that an elected government of politicians could face the price situation more efficiently by increasing food stocks because of their direct contacts with the people at the grass-roots level. He also acknowledged that the interim government, too, recognised the problem.
‘That is why, democracy is the best type of government for solving all kinds of problems,’ he told a questioner, adding that the present government should take measures on elections, be it national or local government, taking into cognizance the concerns of the political parties. He favoured elections to parliament and local government bodies on same day instead of staggered days.
Dwelling on the country’s development dilemma, Akbar, who served the government as bureaucrat in various capacities and also the World Bank as alternative executive director, expressed his conviction that foreign consultants would not be able to solve Bangladesh’s problems of unique characters.
He also criticised the government agencies for providing wrong data citing example that a recent Planning Commission report mentioned access to pure drinking water to be 999 per thousand. ‘Its truthfulness can be understood if those who wrote this report agree to drink water supplied by WASA. And is there any water in slums?’ he added.
Qamar Munir, a joint secretary of the environment and forest ministry, underlined the need for developing a healthy environmental culture and said the ministry would arrange a ‘Meet the Press’ regularly to inform the people of the latest developments and take inputs from the media.