What the papers say

Water Crisis May Get Severe, Say Experts

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 27th May 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…A division is in a severe drought. Migrants are pulled from the Mediterranean. After a five year ban, one export resumes. And while women lead the two largest political parties, how represented are women in politics?

Education and Labour Market

Educational institutions will remain closed through 12 June. Reopening is contingent upon an infection rate below 5 percent and the vaccination of university students, said education ministry officials. Primary and secondary schools and universities have been closed since 17 March 2020. Meanwhile, online classes and education programmers aired on television have been put forth to fill the gap, but due to the “digital divide” they fail to reach many students. 

This week, the Campaign for Popular Education wrote to the finance minister, demanding 20 percent of the upcoming budget, out in June, be allocated to the education sector.

After their boat capsized, 68 Bangladeshi migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean off the Tunisian coast. The boat left from Libya, and the Bangladesh Embassy in Libya said in a Facebook post that some Bangladeshis who were on the craft may still be missing.

Financial Services

The interest the government will pay on its debts will continue to increase; in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the amount for servicing debts is 6 percent more year-on-year, and as much as 92 percent would be for paying interest on domestically-sourced debts, reported The Daily Star. The two primary domestic sources are banks and national savings certificates. National savings certificates offer investors a staggering 11.3 percent interest rate. Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office, criticized the use of savings certificates: “We could have done better on the loans we are taking and the interest we are paying,” he said.

The proposed budget for FY2021-22 does include a record among of foreign aid. It makes use of  Tk 115,000 crore (about $13 billion). Meanwhile, about $50 billion in foreign aid is “in the pipeline”. 

In an unprecedented move for Bangladesh, the country offered Sri Lanka up to $500 million to boost the island country’s foreign reserves. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves have decreased after the loss of tourism and exports during the pandemic. At the end of April, the country’s reserves were about $4 billion, while Bangladesh’s were $45 billion. Already, the Bangladesh Bank has approved $200 million, which can be traded with Sri Lanka for Sri Lankan rupees. Sri Lanka is expected to pay back the amount in 3 months.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

The Khulna division is suffering from a severe lack of water. Located in the south and southwestern part of the country, the division has not received rain in months; the Padma and Gorai rivers have not been replenished from the Ganges river upstream; and underground water levels are low. Nowadays, many wells and water pumps cannot reach underground water. In some cases, people are able to turn to their wealthier neighbors with submersible pumps, which can reach deeper. But experts warn that if the water table drops lower, even submersible pumps may not be able to reach it.

Farmers and Agriculture

Shipment of betel leaves to the European Union resumed Wednesday. In 2015, the EU banned import of the leaf from Bangladesh due to Salmonella contamination. After Bangladesh met food safety standards, the EU lifted the ban in May. Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said he expects the resumed trade will yield $50 million per year while Bangladesh exports about $900 million a year in agricultural products.

Other News

For the first time, the Rohingyas resettled on the small island Bhasan Char prepared for a cyclone. But the island, located in the Bay of Bengal, was not ultimately in the cyclone’s direct path, and it only experienced strong winds and tidal surges two feet higher than normal. The Bangladesh government developed the island despite concerns from development and international organisations about its vulnerability to natural disasters.

In a meeting with United Nations General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh has made “little progress” with Myanmar concerning Rohingya repatriation.

The Election Commission (EC) granted political parties nine more years to fill 33 percent of positions in committees at the local and national levels with women. In 2008, the EC announced political parties had 12 years to get women into these positions. The EC admits they do not know which parties have or have not met this goal. In addition to the extended deadline, the EC drafted a law titled “Registration of Political Parties Act-2020” to legally codify the goal and require parties to report annually to the EC. In the ruling Awami League party, 19 out of the 74 members on the central committee are women (26 percent).