Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eid Holidays

My second Bangladeshi Eid-ul-Fatir has been and gone, and this year I managed to join the hordes leaving the city once again, making a return trip to Khagachuri in the Hill Tracts, where I spent a couple of weeks in May working on research training with the staff at Georgia’s organisation.

Planning for Eid is a momentous operation, requiring anyone wishing to leave the city to book bus and train tickets two or three weeks in advance. My original plan to visit the beach resort of Cox’s Bazar was scuppered by leaving only 12 days advance to book the bus (in normal times, a day or two is sufficient), so instead I managed to grab a last minute ticket to visit Khagachuri.
Buying a bus ticket in Bangladesh can be a hassle, as even if there is space, because often the guy selling the ticket is concerned that the seat will not be suitable for a bedeshi. The reality of course, is that none of the seats are suitable for a bedeshi, nor even a Bangladeshi, as most buses are a composite of welded parts, rust and broken glass, and have seen more battle damage than Stalin’s tanks did. It took significant debate to convince him that I didn’t mind not being at the very front of the bus (the perfect position to see the hurtling oncoming traffic and to fly through the windscreen after one emergency brake too far).

People pour out of Dhaka for Eid: at least half the 14 million people were expected to leave to go to their home villages, carrying enough luggage for a Himalayan expedition, and hampers of food for the (relatively) short journeys that they were to make. The consequence of this frantic exodus is, of course, that it becomes impossible to move in the traffic. Having boarded my bus at around 7.15 am, it was 10.30 before I actually left the limits of Dhaka, a distance equivalent to perhaps travelling from Marble Arch to Liverpool Street. It was then another hour to go two kilometres to the first bridge over the Buriganga, as this single span crossing was facing four or five lanes of traffic at either end desperately trying to force its way on. A year on, the idiocy of Bangladeshi driving still confounds me.

The route to Khagachuri is mostly along the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the ‘M1’ of Bangladesh. This metaphor applies only as far as them both being the busiest routeways in each country.
The comparison stops there. The highway is mostly a single span road, at times the sides of which are crumbling due to erosion of the embankment it runs along. There are rickshaws, CNGs, cattle, people walking and the constant zigzag driving of daredevil bus drivers all going at their equivalent breakneck speeds. A journey in Bangladesh is typically periods of ludicrous speeds, whizzing past rickshaw pullers and paddy fields, interspersed with death-defying breaking and furious shouting by drivers, over periods of 6 to 12 hours. This is normally accompanied by the booming decibels of some ancient Bollywood soundtrack making even thinking hard work. My own bus managed to hit two other buses and smash into the side of a concrete bridge on its dash through the Bangladeshi countryside.

The journey gets worse, however, when the turn off to Khagachuri is reached. What starts is three hours of switchbacks up the hill sides, with the bus lurching from side to side and regularly taking corners at incredible, terrifying angles whilst trucks and other buses coming the other way at similar speeds narrowly avoid collisions. There are bridges to cross that are barely wide enough for the bus to fit across, but are negotiated at fifty miles an hour, and potholes three feet deep dismissed as if it were but leaves on the ground. Add to this the tendency on this particular journey for the Bangladeshis to be sick, often without warning even to themselves, and the relief at arriving can become clear. Having watched people staring out a window before vomiting suddenly and to their own great surprise, and others consume trolley loads of food before throwing the waste out the window, to get off (after the customary army check), after 11 ½ hours into the cool night of the hill tracts was fantastic.

The hills were so much cooler than Dhaka, capturing the early winter winds from the Bay of Bengal, but also the tail end of the monsoon: as I write today, the floods have returned to Khagachuri and are up to 12 feet deep in places. But on Friday evening, taking a rickshaw through the small collections of villages that really make up the down, the sight of fireflies dancing across the rice paddies as the last of the sunset glow vanished was a welcome sight after the dust and dirty grey of Dhaka.

On the Saturday morning, Georgia and I made a trip out of Bhoropara, the village of Kajen, one of her colleagues at work. Even to leave the town, bedeshis are required to inform the army, and on occasions require an enormous police escort. Luckily, this was not required for us, and we were able to take a ‘jeep’ out of the town. The hill tracts are some of the remotest parts of Bangladesh, and the village we went to was considered one well connected by our lack of need of a police escort; indeed our very permission to visit it was dependent on its proximity to Khagachuri. Yet to get there we were still required to take a journey along a number of smaller and smaller roads of similarly deteriorating state of repair for some 30 minutes. We were passing through the forest proper, with small clearings filled with rice paddy surrounded by thick vegetation and a low canopy. After yet another pot hole, the tarmac road gave way to a redbrick herringbone path, along which our jeep bounced and banged its way up the hill side. A short time later we were halted and out of the jeep, as the road came to an end.

Yet this end of the road was still not the village. We then began an hour long hike up hills, through paddy fields and along small streams to get to the village. By this time to sun had risen fully and the early mists had burnt off leaving behind an impressive humidity, making it not long before I was once again sweating gallons in Bangladesh. The landscape here is very impressive: the hills are not large, being just the products of the last ripples of Himalayan uplift, but they are so unusual for this delta country that the mere existence of topography is refreshing. The hill tops are covered in thick vegetation – banana trees, creepers and ferns, and through these well worn paths weave a drunken path up and down. Around the hills, the small patches of flat land have been cleared and cultivated for centuries, so that neat, green squares of rice fill all the space around: the rice paddies appear like green clouds hiding all but the tops of restful mountains, such is their uninterrupted spread. When the trail came down into them though, the squelching of the waterlogged fields was a quick reminder of our diminutive height.

On and on we trekked, until eventually we came to the hill top village. The indigenous people (of which there are 45 groups or so in Bangladesh) traditionally live in hill top villages, in bamboo houses. We stumbled, somewhat bedraggled by sweat, into the village. The isolation is quickly apparent. There is no electricity or water – a tubewell serves the whole village. Most of the houses are small, two or three roomed bamboo shacks much like can be seen in Southeast Asia, and sufficiently different from the mud homes of the plain land Bengalis.

We sat in the ante-room of Kajen’s family home and I watched fascinated as he distributed some gifts to his mother from England. I am sure that whoever packaged up that bottle of Nivea moisturiser did not expect it to end up in a remote Tripura village in Bangladesh. We were visited by a gaggle of children, a parrot with a small grasp of the Tripura language, a cat, chickens and ducks. It seems that in this house, anyone or anything was welcome to wander around, except when the chickens found their way into the rice sacks in the corner, at which point minor pandemonium ensued as they reluctantly fled the scene of their crime pursued by a (always) woman of the house.

The Tripura are in fact a matriarchal society, very unlike the man’s world of mainstream Bangladesh, and Kajen’s grandmother is the matriarch of the village. She is a Hindu widow and consequently cannot be given meat, eggs or liquid foods, though the exact reason for this, other than ‘tradition’ was not made apparent. We were able to go for a walk, and did a small circuit of the collection of centres that make up Bhoropara. We managed to walk into a funeral, a rather embarrassing event as we instantly upstaged the dead man’s special day as the kids left to follow us on our walk, and others sent their stares.

It was difficult to remember that this is not considered a remote settlement. Though Khagachuri was a three hour walk away, where goods could be sold at market, the people were quite well connected to what was happening in the town, and many were relatives of people I had met in my previous visit. But this doesn’t disguise the lack of services. Schools are run by local NGOs, there are no amenities, and the nearest shop is one hour away on foot. Access to healthcare is non existent. Though people seem to do very little, it is a hard life. The tyranny of village life seemed omnipresent.

The next day, we went on a picnic with some of Georgia’s other colleagues and their families.
This was my first Bangladeshi picnic, and will certainly be my last. As always in the Desh, it is important to expect the bizarre, and when Georgia informed me that a picnic committee had been formed, and there was a project co-ordinator, resource manager and so on, it was clear some trepidation was needed.

We managed to find our way through the rain to the house of one of the party (who are all Tripura or Chakma) from where we set off in convey. We had been told we were going fishing and having a picnic, so after a brief walk to a huge river, we assumed that this was the place: how wrong this proved to be. Instead, we all clambered on to a small boat and were paddled across the river in relay, whilst a small boy frantically tried to keep it afloat with swift bailing. It seemed appropriate to go Bangladeshi, so I abandoned my shoes at this point (later to be regretted) and we set off through the paddy fields. The early rain had turned the small paths into slippery, soft, muddy slides, and I spend much of the time dancing along the path desperately trying to find something to grip on to.

It was pretty clear that the guys from Zabarang had not told their wives either about the trek that was to ensue, because they had come bedecked in salwar kameez and smart shoes, and were soon also slipping down the hillsides. On about our third descent, by which time my feet were a mixture of mud, straw and cow shit, we were stopped because there was a ‘small type of snake’. Upon clarification it emerged that the ‘small snakes’ everywhere were in fact large leaches. My bare feet seemed remarkably vulnerable at this point. Trying to walk down a muddy slope in bare feet whilst also hoping over lurking leaches is not an easy task, and it was not long before I had succumbed to gravity (though thankfully, not the leaches).

Finally, after a fourth climb and an hour and half of walking we made it up to a small bamboo shack perched precariously on the hill side. This was to be our picnic spot. I walked rather gingerly across the platform, as it seemed immensely fragile, especially with two bedeshis, 12 Bangladeshis and their food on it. The hill had more of these platforms sporadically spread across it. They are built by jhum cultivators whilst they tend their crop. The indigenous people are sometimes known as jhumvasis (in a slight derogatory way) because they practice the slash-and-burn agriculture known locally as jhum. Those who are too poor or too unlucky (and usually both) to own land on the valley floors grow rice, cucumber and tamarind on precarious slopes. They build these shacks to live in for two or three months whilst farming, and then move on to new parts of the hill side.

The longevity of their stay on the hillside explained why there was a small stove made of clay build into the shack, but also explained whilst there seemed to be an inordinate number of pots with us as baggage. Georgia and I were quickly inducted into the idea of a Bangladeshi picnic, which is really the transplanting of the kitchen to a new location. Everyone immediately sat down to peeling chillies, onions and garlic, trying to hack off pieces of frozen pork and chicken and lighting a fire. It was already by now 11.30.

Eventually some cooking was going, and it seemed that someone was responsible for each dish, meaning a coordinated game of musical chairs ensured as space was negotiated at the stove. When some cooking was eventually underway, it was time to go ‘fishing’. This involved sliding back down the hill side to the small stream at the bottom, which we walked along upstream towards the sound of a distant waterfall. Our hosts then proceeded to flick over large river stones and rummage in the water underneath, trying to find small river crabs. By the time we had reach the end of the watercourse, we had acquired a small collection of very small creatures. Some shak (spinach leaf) was washed in tiny plunge pool, and then the crabs were ripped open and their claws dismembered ready for the pot. We struggled back up the stream and then up the hill, were finally we could do a little eating.

The crabs were quickly cooked, and then banana leaves were laid out on the platform, from which we could pick spinach, fish and crabs. Then, the rice wine was brought out. One cannot drink this potent brew without food, which is made extra spicy in order to induce a sweat. This particular proof was apparently 90%, and had a kick like being hit by a Bangladeshi bus driver – it was lethal stuff, even when mixed up with some 7-Up, the half a cup I was served was too much. It was not long before Georgia’s colleagues were droopy eyed and slurred, and their good natured banter accelerated to bizarre degrees, with stories of some sending girls to the house of another to make his wife jealous, and others talking about a baby still not named after 10 months, and too much more besides. The naming of Tripura children is quite a ceremony. There are only certain letters that the names can begin with, and so a set of options are written down and attached to candles. The candles are lit and the last candle to burn down becomes the baby’s name. One of our two minor accompanies, Joshua, was named by another volunteer that left in August.

Sometime around 3.30 we finally had lunch, eating rice, chicken, pork and fish from huge deep green banana leaves spread out on the ground before we finally moved off the platform and staggered back to the main town, drinking some green coconut water on one stop, and waiting for Diman, a vivacious programme co-ordinator at Zabarang, to eat again at another house. With the rice wine, the falling light, constant food stops and the broken boat, it was a while before we got back to the flat. But, it was absolutely worth it. Though a Bangladeshi picnic is a troublesome affair, the trouble is worth it; the views and the food, the company and even the rice wine were elements of a very memorable, and special day.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

YfD Applications for 2008 open

If anyone is interested in applying to VSO as a youth volunteer, applications have opened and run until January 2008. It is a good opportunity to gain overseas experience in a manner which is not economically unviable, and also in general manages to avoid either taking up job opportunities locals could undertake or making frivalous contributions.
At the very least, my picture is advertising it...see www.vso.org.uk for details

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Curse of Cartooning Strikes Bangladesh

The political cartoon has always been a potent weapon, and the riots across the Muslim world over those infamous Danish cartoons is evidence of such, as well as suggestion that some can be a little over sensitive. Then there were the recent Swedish cartoons: it seems that Scandinavia has something to say to Islam that can only be done through pen and ink sketches. Bangladesh saw its fair share of rioting over the Danish cartoons (though some demonstrated outside the Norwegian embassy), but nothing compared to recent events.

A week or so ago a local cartoonist working for a Bangla daily – Prothom Alo – drew a small strip for a magazine mainly read by teenagers and young people. In it, a man asks a boy holding a cat what his name is, to which the boy replies. He is scolded for not adding the name Mohammed to his name, as ‘all Muslims should have the prophet’s name’. He is then asked his father’s name, and replies with the addition of Mohammed at the front. Praised by the man, the boy is asks the name of his cat, and like all good jokes, takes the advice innocently and adds Mohammed to the cat’s name.

Except, because this is Bangladesh, it was not interpreted as a joke and was instead the catalyst for enormous protests, as people poured onto the streets and marched towards the Prothom Alo offices determined to show their outrage to the cartoonist and the paper. Despite the ban by the caretaker government on protests and gatherings, offendees congregated, baying for the blood for yet another cartoonist.

Despite Bangladesh’s rather fierce secular tradition, the police were swift to act by arresting the cartoonist (a twenty year old) and charge him under a British blasphemy law that has been on statue for over a hundred years. Roughly speaking, his crime is to offend the religious sensibilities of the people. A difficult crime to define surely. Not content with the arrest of someone who amongst more nuanced opinion is seen to have made a mistake and misjudged his audience, the protesters did a little bit of bus burning (standard practice for a Dhaka protest) and demanded the government shut down the newspaper and arrest all the editors.

The media in Bangladesh is already under tight controls since the State of Emergency was announced in January, and some electronic media has been shut down whilst other editors have been warned to tow the government line on stories. Prothom Alo is the country’s biggest Bangla newspaper and has been respected for its comment and attempt to remain free in the tightening environment. It therefore seems incredible that protests, rather than complaining against the media crackdown and the decline of free speech and analysis, are actually calling for this to be accelerated!

It is of course true that Islam in sensitive to blasphemy, and free speech is not an excuse to cause deliberate, provocative offence, but in this case the cartoonist simply made a mistake, as many young journalists do. His joke was ill-judged. Yet he now faces two years in prison, and his newspaper is under threat from a powerful minority of professional offendees who manage to take offence at anything and everything.

Bangladesh at this time desperately needs a powerful and free press if the unelected, military backed government is to be kept in check in any way, and such protests are not helpful. Nor is it helpful or right to destroy a young man’s career and work without recourse. As always in Bangladesh, the marginalised and unpowerful can never make mistakes, whilst the rich and influential build careers out of doing so.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bangladesh...Living on the Edge

I just read a small article from the World Bank which notes that Bangladesh is the most dangerous place in the world to live, in terms of natural disasters. On average, there are 6.14 natural disasters per year in Bangladesh, with Afghanistan a poor second with only 1.34 (though I am sure the Taliban and Nato can make life a little more exciting there if anyone is feeling a little humdrum). This is a little astounding, and more than a little worrying for those in the disaster basin that is the 'desh.
The range of disasters that Bangladesh can and does face are very numerous. Only last week was I awoken in the early hours to be informed of a Tsunami warning, though it proved to be a false alarm. Quick onset disasters are pretty regular - tsunamis are accompanied by earthquakes, landslides, flash flooding, cyclones, tornadoes and coastal flooding. This year, we have had a landslide in Chittagong which killed around 150 people, two cyclones that made landfall, a tornado in the south-west and many small earthquakes. In general, Bangladesh has not the resources to cope with these problems and as such many more people die than would in other places.
Slow-onset events compliment the quick disasters. River flooding is the main one, with this year's floods reaching the highest levels in 30 years and displacing millions. Round two of this episode kicked in late last week. Famine is also a regular event, as are droughts and insect infestations, all leading to crop losses and deaths.
Combined, these events do much to undermine Bangladesh's efforts to bring sustainable and long-lasting development, and this before the social issues of rising population, increased social tension and extreme poverty are added into the mix. All in all, it is easy to see why Bangladesh faces such challenges.
However, it also makes even more ridiculous the idea that is being floated around Bangladeshi policy circles at the moment, that what the country really needs is a nuclear power station! I would rather that Iran had nuclear power than Bangladesh - it would be in safer hands. In light of the 6.14 natural disasters a year (6 times the next highest!), is it really safe to build such things here?
Another article (on water policy and development in Bangladesh) can be read here

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ramadan Is On The Way

Ramadan – Islam’s holiest month – is upon us once again, and like most of the Islamic world, Bangladesh’s 120 million or so Muslims are preparing to fast for the next four weeks. Ramadan sees a partial shut down of the country that makes the Christmas period at home seem like a Victorian workhouse. All the small shops close during the day, covering their entrances with cloth so as not to advertise that there is any food on sale. The shacks and tea houses that hug little street corners and are like miniature food factories stop their industrious production of samosas, shingaras, dhal puri and paratha and instead stand empty until around 3 pm when the production of Iftar food begins in earnest, ready for the fasters to descend at sunset as ravenous vultures do to a fresh corpse.

Ramadan is noticeable on the streets as well. Rickshaw pullers are prolific smokers, and can be found hanging around their rickshaws puffing away all day, but during Ramadan they are forced to twiddle their thumbs as they wait for passengers. Beggars flood into the city as most of the alms giving that is a requirement of Islam is done during this period. The VSO office is opposite a mosque, and getting in can be a bit a gauntlet of the lame, blind and homeless as these unfortunate people line the walls of the mosque entrance.

In the office, most of the staff will be fasting, and as a consequence work will probably end at three or three-thirty each day, as after this they have very little energy left to do anything. As I have only two weeks now to finish off the final bits of my placement work, it is slightly less than helpful! I have investigated the possibility of also holding the fast, but this gets mixed reactions. Some people are quite adamant that non-Muslims should not do it as it is associated with a certain sincerity and belief, which a non-believer would insult by participating. Whilst I think this is somewhat an overreaction (I know many non-Christians who celebrate Christmas), I can sympathise with the idea that the fast is part of a lifetime commitment. It is also part of the Muslim experience, whilst not necessary being part of the Bengali experience and hence is less necessary to understanding Bengal, Bangladesh and their complex history. I also get very hungry around one o’clock and don’t think I could make it through until five thirty without something – I’m still drinking three or four litres of water a day because of the heat, and couldn’t manage without that. I’m planning to through my hat in with the pregnant women.

You can see my latest article for New Age here

Friday, September 07, 2007

Goats and Gatemen

I’ve been away in Tibet for a few weeks, so hence this update is a little late. As before, this blog is about Bangladesh and so there is no space for recounting tales of the Himalayas, save on snippet that reveals the good nature of Bangladeshis and is a further lesson to how to have a genuinely inclusive society. Tibet is famed for its monasteries, but Tibetan Buddhism has its routes in India. One particularly notable pioneer in the second wave of Buddhist defusion was a Bengali scholar called Atisha, who amongst other things set up some monasteries and lived in a cave, as all good religious people of that era would do. He was originally from what is now part of Bangladesh.

Tibet, as you will know, has since been brutally inserted into the modern world through the Chinese occupation, and during the cultural revolution many thousands of monasteries were destroyed by the Red Guards. It is to Bangladesh’s eternal credit that it made a direct appeal to the Chinese government to ask for a monastery west of Lhasa set up by Atisha some 900 years ago to be spared the assault. This was around 1972/1973, when Bangladesh had just emerged from its war of Liberation and was coming to terms with the aftermath of the Pakistani genocide (at least 1 million people died, some say 3 million), devastating 1971 flooding, and the problems of establishing the rule of law in a new country wrecked by a year of conflict. However, amidst widespread hardship and suffering in a country where the form of Buddhism is of a different school and practiced by less than one per cent of the population, Bangladesh made efforts to protect a small part of Tibet’s cultural heritage. It is important that Bangladesh’s empathy is noted, especially in world we live today.

Unfortunately, Bangladesh today has many of the problems that other countries face and the rioting and curfew events of August 20th – 22nd was a rather different story, with a crackdown by the police on protesters, increased reports of police brutality towards those in custody and the arrest of former prime minister Khaleda Zia and her two sons. Bangladesh is entering a nervous period as it is uncertain where it will all finish – a full, overt military coup, or a renewed and deep democracy minus Hasina and Zia? Whatever road is finally taken, it seems unlikely that this cannot be traversed without bloodshed, as the prospective election is some way off and tensions are mounting.

Back in the more secluded world of my flat and its environs, I am having my sleep disturbed by a goat. Most housing blocks in Dhaka have a caretaker of sorts, whose job is to open up the doors, collect rubbish and other menial jobs. Usually they live in the garage on the ground floor, not a particularly pleasant place to have a bed and mosquito net, but that is the way it is – life is cheap, and many people will do this job for worse conditions.

However, despite living in the garage, my sympathy for Ali, our caretaker is rather limited. Not only does he seem incapable of completing any simple task without asking for a little baksheesh (he has at times asked me for baksheesh for work he has done for someone else!), he has now decided to by a goat that lives with him in one side of the garage. The goat is either quite young or quite astute, as its constant bleating is that of a creature missing its mother or knowing it is for the chop, but it is certainly incredibly annoying. It only whinges at night, and then deposits droppings around the garage and up the stairs to our flat, as well as generally making the place look miserable with its forlorn ‘soon to be slaughtered’ look – I’d rather it just got on with it and accepted its fate. Instead, it has made its bed directly beneath my window, which needs to be open to prevent the spontaneous combustion of me and the room in the early September heat. I have noticed with satisfaction its growing waistline, and am looking forward to its date with the halal butcher. The goat is less anxious for that day to arrive.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Call for Aid - The Bangladeshi Flood Situation Worsens

The situation for flood-affected people in Bangladesh continues to deteriorate even as flood waters receded. Up to 10 million people have been displaced across Bangladesh by the flood waters, and are living on embankments and roadsides in temporary, flimsy shelters. The floods have covered over half the country and in some places are the worst seen in sixty years. Many have died, and diarrhoea, dysentery and other water borne diseases are beginning to spread. In many areas, access is only possible by boat.

The long-term effects of this flooding are only just beginning to materialise. Not only have people seen all their possessions washed away by the floodwaters, but they know that under these new brown seas lie the remnants of this year’s rice crop. North Bengal, the area most badly affected (taking in the districts of Sirajangj, Kurigram, Rangpur and Gaibunda) is also the poorest part of Bangladesh. The only economic activity here is agriculture. Most of the land is owned by a handful of zaimanders, who employ the rest of the population as day labourers in the paddy fields. They can plant three crops a year in most parts of the north. The second was due for harvest around now. That has been ruined by the flood.

In normal years, the fields are harvested and then prepared for the next planting in late August and September. After transplanting the Aman rice crop in late September, the agricultural labourers face unemployment for up to two months as they wait for the crop to ripen and harvesting to begin in December. This has lead to the annual occurrence of Monga – a local, near famine condition – every year for centuries. Labourers have had to sell household possessions or their labour in advance at discounted rates to survive, whilst some move to Dhaka to ride rickshaws and others take small loans at extortionate rates. Many starve and malnutrition, particularly amongst the young and women is very high.

This is what happens in a normal year: indeed, this is something that local people try to plan for and which the World Food Programme and others have activities for to try to mitigate its effects. Yet this year, there will not be any field preparation and planting, meaning people will miss two further employment opportunities; this, and the subsequent harvest. This all adds up to an extremely desperate situation that people are facing in the long term, let alone the daily struggle to keep healthy, clean and safe in 4 or 5 feet of dirty, polluted flood water.

The scale of the emergency seems to have been downplayed by the government, and has not received the sort of coverage in the Western press that such an event deserves. This is mainly due to the slow-onset nature of flood disasters, with their protracted development that is less dramatic than the immediacy of earthquakes and tsunamis, which make much better infotainment. But whilst relatively few have died in the flooding, the after effects look set to be dramatic and disheartening.

INGOs and donors are working through local partners to distribute relief aid, but access is difficult and distribution slow. Clean water and shelter are the main requirements at the moment, as many tube wells have become contaminated by the flooding. Capitalism is making its effect known too: the price of water purifiers has doubled in Bangladesh, making them out of the reach (physically as well as economically) of those that really need them.

There is a desperate need for aid, and as a major INGO making a development contribution, VSO Bangladesh feels compelled to make a contribution. The north of Bangladesh is one of VSO’s strategic working areas and some volunteers living there have been flooded out of their homes, and witnessed some very distressing scenes VSO is not a relief organisation and would not pretend to be, but we do have the benefit of many volunteers with their own networks. Therefore, we are asking you, if you can, to donate a small amount to the VSO Bangladesh flood relief fund. All the money will be given to the Chief Advisor’s Special Relief Fund, which is where DFID and other organisations are channelling their relief support.

VSOB is only asking for donations for this one week, so that we can release the money quickly. If you feel inclined, please click on the link here, where you can donate through Paypal via our IT volunteer Mikey Leung’s account.

I have had limited water supply, infrequent power, knee deep filthy flooding and overflowing sewers where I live, so I can vouch for how the television screens do not capture the stench of the water, or the feel of sewage washing through your toes, or the bites of insects in the water on your calf. Yet I have not had my shack and all my possessions washed away, nor can I not access medical treatment, and I can buy a flight home if it gets too bad. The people of North Bengal are in dire need and face a very miserable and hard time over the next few months. If you can help in a small way, VSO Bangladesh, its staff and volunteers, will be very grateful. The money will be spent by Bangladeshis with the skills and experience in disaster relief, and will be put to good use, and not spent on campaign costs or publications.

Please click here to make a contribution.