Preparing for the worst

Dhaka,  Wed,  20 September 2017
Published : 23 Aug 2017, 20:34:51
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Preparing for the worst

Mahmudur Rahman
With another major festival ahead, there have been the natural appeals to donate this year's Qurbani budgets in aid of the teeming millions half-drowned in the floods and without food and health service facilities. The jocular self-conflicting remarks from ministers are no longer funny. There is a shortage of rice which is why import duty has been shaved from 10 per cent to 2.0 per cent. And comments, such as a 'no flood' because 'rats digging holes in dykes' causing them to breach, must feature as priceless lampoons. Beyond the jokes and the pleas, preparations for the worst need to happen.

Home-bound travel will have the added hindrance of flooded-over roads and rail tracks, migration from rural to the urban, probably for good, is  likely to be hastened and the post-flood illnesses will stretch the health services taut. And it doesn't raise spirits to hear Bridges and Roads Minister once again promising that roads will be fit for the arid holiday travels. He said the same two years in a row and the question has to be asked why such roads need to be repaired each year.

The indications incline to a hefty impact on the economy. A slow-down in economic activity, the requirement to use up treasured savings just to stay afloat will obviously impact the less affluent. Banks will be under pressure to reschedule or write-off more loans, especially agri loans. In such a situation the Finance Minister will have to find the money to fund post-flood relief activity. Above all, the massive turnaround in both rural and urban economies spurred by Eid-Ul-Azha activity is under severe threat, especially in the transportation costs. Prices will inevitably be hiked, though desperate sellers may want to take a deep cut in profits just to get some ready cash. One of the electronic equipment sellers has disclosed a tidy rise in seasonal sales one that hopefully will remain buoyant. But as prices of essentials bubble up in the vicious spiral of supply constraints, extortion and cost, urban dwellers will also have to rejig their budget math. The connected economy has its own spill-over of disaster and havoc that carry price-tags of their own.

Unfortunately, with national elections fast taking centre stage it could well be that the saga of the misery dying down once the next sensational news takes over the headlines, will ebb away, just like the flood-waters. The opportunity of implementing pilot housing and income generation projects presents itself in no uncertain way. People at the end of the tether are easier to reach out to with a handshake of change. Imports of life-saving drugs, water-purification tablets and hi-protein food items must be prioritised. 

Seasonal flooding is to be expected but to ask citizens to grin and bear it is almost like being in denial mode. And if we do know that once in a decade, the major floods hit us with a sucker punch, more the requirement of permanent solutions that work. The Netherlands are past masters at not just dealing with floods but using technology to use the disadvantage to their benefits. There was a time when the then King studied water management so as to implement measures for a permanent solution beyond the dykes. The results are there for all to see, to emulate and learn from if the desire so strikes. Ambition doesn't have to be guarded and the 230 rivers and tributaries, properly trained can deliver more of a boom than be a bane.

nahmudrahman@gmail.com
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