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     Volume 6 Issue 39 | October 5, 2007 |

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News Notes

The Ramadan Spell

This year, the month of Ramadan could not have been any more obstreperous for daily commuters in Dhaka city. At the very beginning, office goers and regular commuters were struck by the sudden standstill of the everyday movement around them. It was like being stuck in some kind of a time warp, where, for hours at a stretch, vehicles were either moving at a snail's pace or not moving at all. Occasionally wailing noises from nearby ambulances amidst the honking cars would be heard on the streets, proving the level of desperation and sometimes fear that the everyday commuters, especially patients have to go through.
It got worse during the occasional monsoon showers, blocking the streets and thus making it close to impossible for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police's (DMP) continuous efforts to bring some kind of a control on the street traffic. Unfortunately, even the DMP's special traffic control measures for Ramadan have hardly hadany effect as the commuters continue to experience nagging gridlocks to this day. As the traffic seems to be moving inch-by-inch on almost all the roads every day, most commuters, who also happen to be fasting, prefer to walk to their destination rather than waiting it out inside the gridlock.
Even though there are no exact reasons as to why such gridlocks appear at this time of the year, it is believed that a surge of unmarked and illegal vehicles, including rickshaws come out on the streets out of their dens. Many, from nearby remote areas and villages, camp in the capital for the month in hopes of small time business opportunities as cooks, tailors, maids and other temporary occupations.

Stop Piracy Now
Last week Bangladesh put on a watch-list of countries, which allow copyright violations. The list made by the United States Trade Representatives (USTR), points fingers at the operations of some Pakistani companies that make pirated CDs and DVDs. It has said, “The harm from the practice of piracy in Bangladesh is not only to the US and other countries that have similar businesses, but is also felt keenly by Bangladeshi genuine entrepreneurs.”
Piracy is a major issue in today's business world. The report has suggested Bangladesh introduce regulations controlling optical disc manufacturing so that the Bangladeshi authorities can issue licenses to manufacturers, and law enforcers can inspect the plants. The government should take immediate steps to clamp down on this menace; at the same time it must start lobbying with its US counterpart to drop the country's name from the list. Effective vigilance of the market, along with the factories is necessary. Because the country's name has been put into the watch-list, the USTR can now suggest US entrepreneurs to withdraw their investments from Bangladesh or to impose a trade embargo on the country. This will surely make a negative impact on our economy. It is high time that the government comes forward to save our economy from any future stagnation.

Celebrating Age
October 1 was declared the International Day for Older Persons by the United Nations in 1990. This year, as a part of observing the day, Help Age International coordinated a day of global activism called Age Demands Action in which delegations in 20 countries met their governments on issues of the elderly.
Advocating for improvements in ageing policies and practice, the Bangladeshi Age Demands Action delegation - the members of which include Advocate Sultana Kamal, Dr. Akbar Ali Khan and actors Abul Hayat and Mamunur Rashid - recommended that access to the Old Age Allowance from age 60 be increased by a minimum of 18% by 2009, from 1.7 million people to 2 million people; that free healthcare and medicine be provided to older people on presentation of an ID card; that flood shelters for older people are prepared through disaster programmes; and that the inclusion of ageing issues in school and university textbooks be actively promoted.
According to Help Age International, six percent (8.3 million) of Bangladesh's population was aged over 60 in 2006 - a figure that is expected to rise to 17 percent in 2050. Most older people in the country live in rural areas, 40 percent (3.3 million) below the poverty line. This adds to their lack of food security and vulnerability to natural disasters such as cyclones and floods and overcrowding in cities.
Homes for the elderly are only beginning to be established in the country, though their popularity remains low due to social stigmas regarding sending older members of the family to such institutions which are often said to encourage the weakening of family bonds. Greater understanding, awareness and advocacy regarding the needs of older persons is required to provide them with necessary facilities to live with dignity and in comfort at an age where many of them are helpless and even homeless.

At The Mercy Of The Middlemen Again
The mad rush of the Eid season is here once again - and it is reflected on everyone's faces on the streets. From the little children on the streets asking the apas and bhaiyas for a few takas more to buy new clothes to the apas and bhaiyas themselves sauntering around in the big shopping malls with multi-coloured shopping bags looking for the best bargain - everyone seems to have an extra leap to the walk. Everyone's looking forward to the big day. But for the more than a few lakh people who will be leaving Dhaka just before Eid it's a nightmare to think about.
It all begins with the wild rush for the bus and train tickets. Forget going to the ticket counter early in the day, the rush starts much earlier. Many people have complained about going to the ticket counter right after having their sehri only to find out that there were a few hundred people already waiting there. After waiting in line for hours many people have had to return empty-handed when the tickets ran out. Although bus companies have been very strict this year, scalpers have managed to find a way through the loopholes and are selling tickets for a much higher price.
The final hurdle is the actual crossing of the great Dhaka border on the last couple of days before Eid. Crammed to capacity a myriad of buses, launches, trains and many other petrol-guzzling contraptions leave the capital city, sometimes with their passengers literally holding on for their lives - especially those on top of trains and overloaded launches. But back home one must go for Eid - to see the smiles on the faces of the loved ones, to pray together on Eid morning with new clothes, to have special meals together. Because when this is all over, it'll be back to the mundane, backbreaking, under-paying work in the garments, homes, mills, shops, and construction sites of the cruel metropolis of Dhaka.

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