Entrepreneurs burning zinc, photo: gilbert kolonko
What is happening to a developing country that was the international monetary fund’s favorite school for 20 years?
On the street, an avalanche of cars honks its way forward, while on the burgersteig, people push people forward: "it’s good to be in kolkata. Here I can take a breath. Even the river is clean, the food is of high quality, and there is even a metro line", says mr. Bishwas in the BBG bagh neighborhood of kolkata.
By the river, bishwas means the hugli, which has a pollution level of up to 1.5 million coliform bacteria per centiliter – only 500 are allowed in india. And there are still fish swimming in it, which are caught and sold on the market.
It is not so village-like here either: kolkata is the second loudest city on earth and there live 24.000 people on one square kilometer – in berlin there are just under 4000. But there is no need to call the psychiatrist: mr. Bishwas comes from the old city of dhaka, where up to 135.000 people live on one square kilometer. The buriganga river, a stone’s throw away, is a stinking, black cesspool – like all rivers in the bangladeshi capital. It’s not just the pharmaceutical industry and leather tanneries, but thousands of small factories as well. In some, plastic goods are made with chemicals by unprotected human hands, in others rubber sandals – and in still others balloons are dyed in toxic lyes by children’s hands.
We already know that the metropolis of dhaka, which has a population of 18 million, is in danger of collapse because of the side effects of its "export hit" will be without groundwater in 20 years – and yet the madness does not stop: people continue to stream into the capital from the country’s rural areas, mainly from the north of the country. There the fields are either under water or dry up. However, it is not only the changing climate that is responsible for this. In the rainy season, neighboring india opens the floodgates of dammed rivers, such as the tista, which flee to bangladesh. In the dry season they stop the inflow.
In dhaka, the rural dwellers then try to find a job in the low-cost textile industry, which employs about 4 million cheap workers and is very convenient for the employers in their dispute with the unions. Others, on the other hand, try their hand at entrepreneurship because they can earn up to three dollars a day, twice as much as a local: people melt out the zinc from the zinc-coal batteries they collect over small fires to sell it for a little more than a dollar a kilo. They handle rotten, chrome-contaminated leather scraps, which they turn into chicken and fish feed, or spend all day digging for plastic scraps in the metropolis’ numerous garbage dumps.
Millions of people have been dispossessed in the name of progress
This economic success story began in the 1980s with reforms under general ershad and supported by the world bank. Millions of people have been dispossessed in the name of progress, and land ownership has been given to the few to use for profitable ventures.
The tista river is almost without water already in november thanks to india. Photo: gilbert kolonko
The hunger has been largely eliminated by the falling crumbs of this system. But the alleged goal – to modernize the country – could never be achieved from the beginning, because the main profit was precisely not reinvested in the country’s infrastructure to prepare for life after low-cost industry, but still disappears into the pockets of a few.
The IMF and the world bank know this, too, because even the projects they support are drowning in corruption. The fact that democracy in bangladesh is also on shaky ground was addressed by the chairman of transparency international bangladesh. Dr. Iftekharuzzaman called the local parliament a puppet show – with a voter turnout of only 22 percent, 154 of the 300 deputies were elected to parliament without opposing candidates, as the opposition boycotted the elections in 2014. Last year’s local elections in bangladesh’s 68,000 municipalities were even worse.000 municipalities in bangladesh: violence, mainly perpetrated by hit squads of government candidates, claimed the lives of 117 people.
Progress in the health system, praised by the world bank, often exists only on paper. As we have seen, there are new hospital buildings, but there is a lack of staff, which also exists only on paper, but is paid for.
Instead, hundreds of small and large dhakas are growing uncontrollably in bangladesh – and instead of modern infrastructure, there are modern shopping centers. These are for the high-income 10 percent, who are further away from the "economic growth" benefit. The low-income 40 % of the country do not participate, but suffer from rising food prices. Thus, the population of bangladesh, which is only twice as large as bavaria, continues to increase from 162 million by 1.8 million per year "losers" grief.
The economic system of "scorched earth" is now being applied to the countryside, where agricultural fields are being flooded with saltwater for shrimp farming for the markets of western countries. Some 200,000 hectares of mangrove forests and fertile land have already been turned into aquacultures, with no end in sight. Since this type of farming also salinates neighboring fields and groundwater, other farmers often have no choice but to follow the path of self-destruction.
At the same time, the rising sea level is already taking larger and larger areas of the coastal regions of bangladesh and making them uninhabitable for humans. A rise of only 45 centimeters in sea level will create 10 million more climate refugees in bangladesh. For the end of this century, researchers predict that bangladesh will lose 20 percent of its land area.
The world community will have to deal with millions more (climate) refugees from bangladesh alone in the coming decades
Now the country is also being hit by the rohingya crisis with up to 600.000 refugees from myanmar. Now bangladesh is suddenly no longer the aspiring developing country that for 20 years had been well-behaved in its "economic growth" but is once again called one of the poorest countries in the world. The institutions, which could not praise the country enough in the last few years, are calling on the general public for donations. The profits from the economy of the last 30 years have been pocketed by corporations and the corrupt.000 dollar millionaires in bangladesh.
Workers at a sandal factory in the fresh air. Photo: gilbert kolonko
The world community may have to deal with millions more (climate) refugees from bangladesh alone in the next decades, which will lead to further nationalist governments in many countries. In india, populist modi has intensified work on a fence on the border with bangladesh. If he wants to prevent the people from there from fleeing to india, he had better make good on his promise and clean the filthy ganges – because it flows into the coarse river delta to bangladesh.
Instead, economic ties to the semi-democratic government in bangladesh are strengthened. Among others with a coal-fired power plant in the mangrove forests of the sunderbans. The fact that this deal was initiated by modi’s predecessor government shows that they, too, were driven by the short-term profit motives of their companies instead of foresight: the sunderbans are bangladesh’s last natural protection wall against the intrusion of saltwater into the country’s interior.
It is not to be expected that china, as a future world power, will change anything in this economic cycle. Following the western model, they are now concerned about clean rivers at home, but they have become the major leather buyers for the tanneries of dhaka. With this they produce shoes at home, whose main customer is germany, which verbally strengthens the democracies of this world.