by David Hulme
Global attention on Bangladesh is focused on the crisis created by the November 15th cyclone. This has caused horrific suffering, but the country also faces a more insidious and slowly unfolding crisis. Below is a note that a colleague in Bangladesh has emailed me. As the country is under a caretaker administration, backed by the military, s/he cannot reveal their identity. The recent increases in global food prices are clearly already putting enormous pressure on poor people’s incomes around the world – but, is Bangladesh really facing a ‘near famine’. Let me know what you think.
The Impending Food Crisis in Bangladesh
Food prices in Bangladesh are galloping by the day, and essential commodities, such as rice, wheat flour, cooking oil, onion and lentil are now well beyond the reach of the common man. It was not that prices were downward during the five-year period of the last elected government, but these have been continuously creating all time high records during the last one year, that is after a civilian caretaker government, armed with emergency provisions, backed by the armed forces and enjoying the blessings of the international development partners, took over in Bangladesh. Indeed, with various reforms, including a crackdown on corruption, it was widely expected that economic development would further pick up, and there would be an accelerated reduction of poverty in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the records show an unmistakable downturn in the economy with dwindling investments, both internal and external. In fact, Mr. Forrest Cookson, an American free-lance consultant living in Bangladesh, has recently commented that this year, the GDP growth rate in Bangladesh may be in the negative. Compare it with the 6 percent growth rates of recent years.
So, the question to ask is ‘what happened during the last one year’. It seems that the poor economic mismanagement under the caretaker government started with indiscriminate raids on the godowns (Wharehouses) of large food dealers and importers on the pretext of cracking down on food adulteration. This is one of the usual gimmicks of Martial Law/Semi-Martial Law governments in their initial phase to win popularity and pressure the private sector into submission. Adulteration of food is certainly a problem in Bangladesh, and action against it was progressing quite impressively during the rule of the last elected government. However, the brutal and thoughtless manner in which it was operationalised by the caretaker government had a disastrous impact. Many food importers and food merchants stopped importing and distributing food. This was despite the amendments and inducements introduced later and solemn promises made by the high-ups not to harass them in the future.
Second, the interim government has dragged its feet on importing food grains for at least six to nine months, given the slow and complicated policy-making and implementation mechanism in place in Bangladesh and despite the emergency provisions. In countries like Bangladesh suffering from food insecurity, it is important (more…)