Cyclone just latest in series of hard hits taken by Bangladesh

first_imgDHAKA, Bangladesh – The cyclone that ravaged Bangladesh’s coast has left the country reeling, but for many here already weary of hardship it just seemed like the latest in a series of plagues afflicting the nation. There’s the grinding poverty that forces some 60 million people to live on less than $1 a day. There’s the overpopulation that has packed nearly 150 million people into a country the size of Iowa, where just 3 million people live. There’s the rampant corruption, the political state of emergency, the power shortages in the teeming cities and the annual floods on the low-lying coast. Bangladesh is perennially ranked among the world’s most corrupt nations, according to the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International. About 2-3 percent of its economy, or around $1.5 billion, is estimated lost annually to corruption. In a series of astonishing moves, the interim government has gone after the biggest fish, jailing two of the country’s former prime ministers on corruption charges, as well as a host of their associates and family members. Mohammad Haroun, a sidewalk fruit seller in Dhaka, used to have to pay a policeman 15-30 cents every day for his slab of pavement. Since the interim government came to power in January, he said the police no longer demand bribes. The imprisoned former leaders, Sheikh Hasina and her archrival Khaleda Zia, kept the country in a chokehold for 15 years as they traded the premiership back and forth, allegedly embezzling vast fortunes along the way and stymieing the political process with their deep enmity for one another. Hasina is the daughter of Rahman, the first prime minister, and Zia is the widow of the second. “At last, something is being done about corruption,” said Syed Manjurul Islam, a professor at Dhaka University. “But this should have been done 30 years ago.” The country’s economy has also improved dramatically in recent years, largely thanks to a booming textile industry. The economy grew 6.5 percent during the 2007 fiscal year and 6.6 percent the year before, according to the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank said in a report released earlier this month that Bangladesh could almost double its per capita income to $870 by 2016 if corruption is curbed and the economy continues to grow. In another promising sign, the infant mortality rate has fallen from 574 deaths per thousand births in 1990 to 66 in 2007, according to the World Bank.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsSome plagues are nature’s design – the man-eating tigers of the mangrove forests – and some are man-made – the thick-as-soup pollution in Dhaka, the impossibly congested capital. “Sometimes,” said Anwara Begum, a villager who lost her home and cattle in last week’s cyclone, “it feels like Allah is not with us.” Whether it’s in a village of bamboo huts or a city of honking traffic, life in Bangladesh is lived on the edge, and the smallest push can lead to disaster. The government is largely ineffective and bribes are necessary for everything from getting a driver license to opening a vegetable stand. Still, some recent political and economic developments are encouraging: Incomes are rising, infant mortality is falling, and the economy is growing. Bangladesh’s military-backed government has launched a campaign to crush corruption that has won praise from all corners of the country. last_img

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