Are we lacking in our humanitarian understanding?
Reading the news, the impression is that the Covid-19 pandemic has gone away. No night time restrictions, buses full again, and so on. The Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader has said that mask wearing by passengers and staff on buses is compulsory, and no standing inside the buses will be allowed. Also that hand sanitizers and/or soap and water needs to be provided.
Who will enforce good sense? Nobody is listening to anyone! Has the minister forgotten why and how the students were killed by buses in 2018? The driver, conductor, and/or helper on each bus earn more money each day if they pick up more passengers and crowd their buses. In addition, everyone knows that, if the police stop a bus and find the driver is not following the traffic laws or these current regulations, the driver is under instructions from the bus owner to pay off the police.
One of the conditions is that buses need to be disinfected before and after each journey. That is wishful thinking. Owners and drivers will want their buses on the road as long as possible to earn as much as possible.
And members of the general public are not taking things seriously either. On Eid day, near the Banani graveyard, I challenged three young men who were not wearing masks. One of them replied in very good English: “Sir, it is not necessary; today is Eid.” On another occasion, I requested a rickshaw driver to wear his mask. He pointed at the bright sun and said it was not necessary. In any case, most people wear their masks on their chins.
It is not too difficult to help to control the pandemic. Everyone should be persuaded to wear masks, wash hands/use hand sanitizers, and, where possible, keep a distance. Wearing a mask can protect you and also others. As my doctor son, who has been on the Covid front line in London, says: “Act as if you are infected -- wear a mask.”
Nobody seems to understand that being so careless and stupid can contribute to unnecessary deaths. Nobody is ready, it seems, to set a good example.
Even the Dhaka University students of Muktijuddho Mancha, demonstrating at the Raju Memorial Statue on September 1, seemed more interested in showing their faces to the camera than setting a good example by wearing masks. Very sad indeed.
So, while some people pretend that life is becoming more normal and that the pandemic will “disappear,” what is happening to our children and grandchildren? Some have limited online learning available, but does anyone understand the effect that the pandemic is having on the mental health of children?
And it is not only mental health about which I worry. Important immunizations are being forgotten or neglected.
In addition, with the focus being on Covid-19, not enough attention appears to have been given to those millions of people affected by one of the worst floods of the last 50 years. I have personally been involved with relief work of the great floods of 1988 and 1998 so I have some idea regarding the matter.
So many families who have lost their sources of income have returned to their villages and have then been affected by floods. The government should understand that millions of people have been affected by multiple disasters within the space of a few months.
Much more practical and sympathetic attention should be paid to the humanitarian aspect of what people are experiencing.
As far as needing to show humanitarian understanding goes, it should be pointed out that the Dhaka North City Corporation recently announced that they are going to free up walkways and remove the hawkers who are selling items such as hand sanitizers, PPEs, socks, belts, shirts, pants, etc.
If these hawkers are interviewed, you will find that some of them had full time jobs in garment factories, shops, or restaurants before the lockdown was imposed in March this year.
They have sent their families to their villages and are trying to earn something. One man I spoke with said his family had been in Dhaka for 15 years and now his wife, who had also worked, and three children had gone to his village.
The children uprooted away from their schools and their friends -- how will they navigate through this traumatic journey? It is my request to DNCC to show some understanding of the situation of these people occupying some of the walkways.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.