May 31, 2012 - (Please note that the following blog directly reflects the personal opinion and knowledge of one man. Information presented is subject to error, although many of the arguments are extremely valid).
Today, I cried for the first time since arriving in Bangladesh.
Ryan and I returned to Dhaka yesterday afternoon after being in Sherpur for 7 days. This morning, a Bangladeshi aquaintance stopped by the YWCA to drop off the laptop Ryan and I will be using for our work assignments. As we waited for the computer to load, we began to discuss the future of Bangladesh. His response took me aback: "Bangladesh is gone. Bangladesh will never be a good or developed country."
In response to our inquiries, our aquaintance continued to further explain his proclamation. He broke it down into the following issues:
- Due to the country of Bangladesh bordering India, Bangladesh will never be able to develop. Despite previous attempts in pursuit of the contrary, Bangladesh and India do not have strong political or economic ties. In fact, India has hindered the development of Bangladesh is two particularly detrimental ways. First, by cutting off much of the country's water supply by building dams within the Indian borders. At this rate, Mizan doubts that Dhaka's water table will be able to sustain the population for longer than 20 more years. In addition, many of the poorest are harmed as a result of lack of recently dependable irrigation water and widespread desertification. Second, India has put regulations on access to Indian transit systems while participating in trade.
- An extremely corrupt government has led to severe economic, political, and social failures. In the past two years alone, taxes have been raised 4 times and gas prices have quadrupled. Also, due to bribery and orders from the government, a severe lack of law and order has been practiced--especially when crimes involving current party members are involved. In the past 3 years, 20,000 people have been killed in public, and over 10,000 women have been raped. Many of the criminals have not been arrested. As a result of this violence, it is considerably more expensive to raise girls than boys in this already male-dominant society. These costs are attributed to paying for additional transportation fees for girls going to school (in order to prevent them from becoming victims), paying dowries, etc.
In summary, our aquaintance said, "Some may say Bangladesh is good--that our country is beautiful and everything is fine-- but it is not true. Forty years ago our country was beautiful. Now, we have destroyed it. We are very unlucky to have been born here."
When I came to Bangladesh, I was by no means under the illusion that I knew all the answers to development. Like most fields, development has many intricacies, interrelations, and obstacles that cannot be easily determined or overcome. If there were a formula for development, there would be no need for me to be in Bangladesh! However, I will not deny that I found myself extremely overwhelmed by this discussion. While the obstacles of development have been thoroughly discussed in class, it was while I was listening to the perspective of this man--this Bangladeshi--that the vastness of this challenge became a reality for me, and it scared me to death.
A common misconception regarding the world's poor is that they are poor simply because they do not have money. If these individuals had money, global poverty would be eradicated. While this is true, there are so many other factors that come into play to perpetuate this occurrence. In order for the world's poor to break themselves free from they cycle of poverty, so many other obstacles must be overcome. People must be educated, healthy, have access to appropriate property rights and capital, and have physical and financial security. National and local governments have to be free of corruption, create policies conducive towards development, and provide social aid. International relations and trade agreements must be conducive towards equal and fair bargaining power and agreements. And so, so much more!
The point of this blog was not to express hopelessness; those of you who know me should be well aware of my tendency to be unfailingly optimistic and infuriatingly stubborn. However, it has caused me to take a moment to reconsider how I perceive development and the underdeveloped world. I am not quite sure what I have come up with, but I will keep you posted.
Also, it is my hope that this blog will serve as a means through which you can best understand the obstacles currently faced by Bangladesh; as well as the rest of the underdeveloped world.