Bangladesh Blockade-Hartal Bleeds Economy

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2015.03.23
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150323-BD-mason-620 Bangladeshi mason Rajesh Chand, 52, waits for work amid an opposition-led nationwide strike, March 5, 2015.
AFP

Former Dhaka vegetable seller Abdul Baten is among countless Bangladeshis who complain about how an 11-week-old blockade and hartal is squeezing their incomes.

The on-going anti-governmental strike, launched by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on Jan. 5, has resulted in the deaths of more than 120 people in related street violence and caused U.S. $20 billion in national economic losses to date, according to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

Baten, who sold vegetables in Dhaka’s Mirpur area, says he used to get by and support his family of five by taking home 1,000 taka ($13) in daily profits.

“The hartal-oborodh (blockade) has ruined my business and I’m back on the street, driving a rickshaw again,” the 40-year-old told BenarNews.

“We are now in a hand-to-mouth situation. How can we survive in this condition?”

The strike has led to the number of vegetable stalls doing business in the area falling to 15 from at least 50 before the work stoppage hit, said vegetable peddler Md. Rahim.

“I do not know whether I will face a similar fate like Baten’s. People are not buying like before,” Rahim said.

Motaleb, a local bus conductor, said his daily income had dropped to 250 [U.S. $3.21] taka from 450 taka [U.S. $5.78].

“I could buy fish or beef every day. Now I cannot. One kilogram of beef sells at 350 taka [U.S. $4.50]. It was 280 taka [U.S. $3.59] before the hartal,” Motaleb told BenarNews.

“My income goes down, but prices have gone up. How will we survive if this hartal continues?” he added.

‘Strike must stop immediately’

Business owners and FBCCI member, who oppose the BNP-led blockade and hartal, have staged at least one counter-protest calling for it to end at once.

“But it yielded no result. We have been passing [through a] very bad time to maintain the supply chain due to higher charges of the truckers for safety concerns. The strike must stop immediately in order to save the country from ruin,” Federation President KaziAkram Uddin Ahmed told BenarNews.

Yet some economists are optimistic that Bangladeshis will find a way to survive the crisis.

Farmers have suffered the most from the strike – which has hit the transportation system and prevented many of them from shipping their produce to market – but the system is almost back to normal now, said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, director of the Dhaka School of Economics.

"I think the resilient people of Bangladesh will adapt to the strikes and recoup the losses to a great extent as they did in the past," he told BenarNews.

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