Has Covid-19 changed people’s attitudes towards cleanliness and hygiene?
To walk from my apartment in Banani to Gulshan-2 circle takes about 12 minutes. This morning, at about 8am, I walked this distance. On the way I counted 10 discarded facemasks. Discarded on the sidewalk, in the roadside gutter, anywhere, and possibly carrying infections.
Over the years, I have become accustomed to citizens of this great city just throwing rubbish anywhere and spitting whenever they feel the urge to do so. I had hoped, vainly it seems, that given the hygiene messages during the months of Covid-19, the attitude of people would change. Alas, no!
Despite the messages about the mandatory wearing of face masks, very few people are seen wearing them in the affluent areas of Gulshan and Banani, and those who do wear them, have them on their chin and not covering their nose and mouth. The media reports that people at Farmgate or Gulistan are being fined by magistrates when found to be without masks. Why not in Gulshan and Banani as well?
And why only Tk200? Why not Tk2,000? People need to wake up and be shaken up!
When Dhaka was experiencing the more complete lockdown, the roads were safer and the air was cleaner to breathe in. Now the traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels and despite numerous reminders to the traffic police and civic authorities over the last nine months, the traffic lights at Gulshan-2 are not working properly, which makes things dangerous and the police just do not seem to care.
At least something good has happened in recent weeks, and that is that the lake between Gulshan and Banani has been cleaned up, including the sides of the lake. However, over 100 rickshaws still occupy and block the walkway on the Banani side of the lake. Other parts of the walkway are blocked by building materials and, in some places, car parking is being allowed.
Why are the authorities letting this happen? Is somebody receiving illegal rental money? Why does the Banani Society not wake up and take action either directly or through the DNCC? Why are so many representatives/councilors sleeping, or so it seems? It is mind-boggling.
Another disturbing aspect is that one sees more hungry children on the streets, and of course, children all over the country are still not being allowed to attend school. There are thousands of children who could be safely attending school outdoors in many parts of the country, even in some urban areas. There seems to be no imagination or flexibility in the Ministry of Education.
It is, of course, through schools that the message of mask-wearing and handwashing can be taught. Having been responsible, on behalf of Oxfam-UK and the Gandhi Peace Foundation, for hundreds of informal Bangladeshi schools in very difficult conditions in flooded refugee camps in India in 1971, I cannot understand why the education of children is not given a higher priority in Bangladesh in 2020. Is this the way to celebrate 50 years of Bangladesh and Mujib Borsho?
In addition, while talking about the cleanliness of children, the government needs to go on a war-footing to ensure that there is the correct number of toilets and handwashing facilities at all kinds of educational establishments, and that there is safe drinking water. Only then can the health of the younger generation be improved both by practice and knowledge.
If there is, perhaps, some sort of silver lining that can emerge from the scourge and pain of Covid-19, it is the lesson of cleanliness and hygiene for people of all ages.
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.