Corruption complicates our work

By Michael Schlüssel

The rainy season has begun, the monsoon is approaching. In the north of Bangladesh, unusually extreme storms and rainfall have caused considerable damage to infrastructure, agriculture and houses. There were several deaths and hundreds of casualties. In Bangladesh, some of the rivers rose by up to 65 centimeters. In the southwest of the country, entire regions have been flooded. Numerous dams broke and large areas are uninhabitable. Many residents had no choice: they had to relocate. Fortunately, after the floods in the southern part of Cox’s Basar District, the situation has recovered quickly. Here the water level is back to the level before the storms, the damage to the mud houses is repaired and the rice fields are prepared for the next sowing.

Violent riots

We are also concerned about the extremely tense political atmosphere in the country. The opposition party BNP calls for mass demonstrations and wants to induce an early change of government. At the state universities, there are regularly violent battles between the youth associations of the government and of the opposition parties. Several people died and many were injured. Observing the political events in Bangladesh, one suspects that omnipresent corruption is the only driving force behind political activities in the country.

Corruption on a daily basis

The media often reports this abuse, but there is no response from the government. In the newspapers, you can read about the so-called “land grabbing” every day: Companies buy up huge areas of fertile farmland, since in this densely-populated country, real estate transactions promise immense profits. Accordingly, the procedure is ruthless. Rivers and lakes are being buried illegally, agricultural land and nature reserves are being plundered in order to create new land for settlement constructions. Existing building regulations regarding fire protection and earthquake safety are hardly ever complied with. Even some politicians decry the poor quality of these buildings. Behind these transactions are often powerful officials of the ruling party.

The situation is further complicated by the increasingly difficult supply of water, electricity and gas. Even in the capital city of Dhaka, power blackouts rise to up to ten hours a day. The gas has been strictly rationed for a while now. This is affecting not only transportation – almost all vehicles run on gas – but also the industry. Consequently, due to drinking water shortages, diarrhea epidemics are spreading throughout the country. The government seems to be nowhere near capable of addressing the country’s problems. Not to mention future challenges such as climate change.

Our projects

Our work also suffers under these conditions: The expansion of support for the Upazilla hospitals in Ramu, Maheschkali, Kudubdia and Cox’s Bazar Town continues to be blocked by the government agency “NGO Affair Bureau”. Our application for approval was submitted at the beginning of April, but has still not been approved. The mills of the bureaucracy grind here even slower. And the government’s refugee policy concerning the Rohingas from Myanmar also slows down the process, although our project is not directly related to it. The commitment of us and other local and international NGOs is not welcome. This is particularly unfortunate, since the large Sadar hospital in Cox’s Bazar is in desolate condition and desperately needs support. This means that the recently completed extension building cannot yet be used since basic things such as beds and mattresses are missing. This institution is the reference hospital and is responsible for the district’s more than two million inhabitants.

In Cox’s Bazar, the local tourist season is over and the city is getting quieter again. The climate here is much more endurable than in Dhaka, where temperatures rise above 35 degrees. Last month, we conducted an inventory of the stocks of our donated medicines in hospitals and sub-centers. The result was very pleasant: there were hardly any shortages, the handling of the medicines is very responsible. In addition, our new doctor has recently started his work. He is a great asset to the project, highly motivated and very professional despite his young age. Jointly, we will now visit the new hospitals and coordinate the need for medical care with the doctors there.

In Teknaf, a southern sub-district of Bangladesh, the relationship with the hospital management improves every day. More and more people appreciate our support. That’s a welcoming motivation. In the meantime, the extension building has been officially inaugurated. Additionally, we have set up a room for dental treatment. Furthermore, we continue to support hospitals in the sub-districts of Teknaf, Uhkia and Chakaria as well as the sub-centers in Nila, Eidgah and Badarkali. From the government, these institutions receive far too little medication, medical equipment and above all insufficient staff.

Support also for remote villages

Our doctor Shajib Hossain is travelling three times a week with an ambulant clinic to the areas most affected by the storms. Approximately 150 patients are treated during the visiting hours and are provided with free medication. During his tours, he became aware of some villages whose inhabitants can barely reach the state hospitals and health centers in Teknaf, Ukhia and Nila. From Baharchara, for example, you can only reach Cox’s Bazar at low tide via a 20-kilometre-long road along the coast. The asphalted road to Wykong is very unsafe due to frequent raids and is avoided by the locals. Hence, our work in the remote villages is of exceptional importance.