Bangladesh facing ‘epidemic’ of child drownings

Special Crisscrossed with rivers and canals, Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest drowning rates for under-fives. (Photo by Munir uz Zaman / AFP)
Crisscrossed with rivers and canals, Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest drowning rates for under-fives. (Photo by Munir uz Zaman / AFP)
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Updated 11 February 2022

Bangladesh facing ‘epidemic’ of child drownings

Bangladesh facing ‘epidemic’ of child drownings
  • Dozens of Bangladeshi under-5s drown daily with incidents thought to have doubled during COVID-19 lockdown period

DHAKA: It was a late December morning when Fahima Akhter saw her youngest son for the last time. Two-year-old Omar Faruque was in front of the family home, playing with his cousins. His mother had been watching him but became distracted by household chores. Minutes later, the youngster had disappeared.

“I live in a joint family with my in-laws. It’s a 10-member family. There were some other family members in the yard also,” Akhter told Arab News. “No one noticed when little Faruque suddenly disappeared and walked to a nearby pond. It’s a five-minute walking distance for a toddler. While cooking in the kitchen, I heard a loud noise as if something fell into the water.”

She rushed to the pond only to find her son’s body floating in the water.

“We could have prevented the drowning of Faruque if we had built a fence on the way to the pond. It was a very costly lesson and irreparable loss,” she said.

Akhter is one of thousands of Bangladeshi parents to have lost children to unintentional drowning last year. Crisscrossed with rivers and canals, Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest drowning rates for under-fives.

Dr. Aminur Rahman, deputy executive director at the Center for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh, estimated that the number of incidents could have more than doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, as lockdowns had forced many daycare centers to close.

“Earlier also the drowning of children was like an epidemic,” he said. “But it was increased during COVID days since schools were closed and children remained unguarded in many cases.”

The latest government data, compiled in 2016, showed that more than 30 toddlers had drowned in Bangladesh every day. While no nationwide survey has been conducted for the past six years, the injury prevention center last year recorded 19 child drowning deaths only among the kids attending its nurseries in two districts of the southern Barisal region. “Before COVID-19, the number was seven,” Rahman added.

A recent study by Somashte, a Bangladeshi media monitoring NGO, also showed a sharp increase in drowning incidents involving children aged below five. Based on newspaper reports, it estimated the number had more than doubled since 2020.

Little has been done to address the situation since the 2016 national survey revealed the scale of the problem.

“Since 2016, we didn’t do much to prevent the drowning of the children,” Rahman said, adding that efforts should be made to start building fences around bodies of water.

“It will help a lot in reducing the drowning incidents among children.”

He said programs to teach lifesaving techniques should also be introduced throughout the country.

“I have noticed most of the drowning victims are brought dead to healthcare centers in remote areas of the country as it takes several hours to transport the patients,” Rahman added. “If cardiopulmonary resuscitation could be given to the victims immediately after the rescue, many lives could have been saved.”

Authorities say they are planning to launch a pilot scheme for drowning prevention this year.

“After pneumonia, drowning is the main cause of our children’s deaths below the age of five. So, we want to eradicate this problem from the country,” Mohammed Tariqul Islam Chowdhury, early childhood development specialist at the Bangladesh Shishu Academy, the national academy for children that will be implementing the program, told Arab News.

“We have been working on this project since 2018. Now everything is at the final stage. We are expecting to receive approval for the three-year project from the executive committee of the National Economic Council at any time this month.”


US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering

US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering
Updated 8 sec ago

US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering

US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON: A delegation of US lawmakers arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a two-day trip during which they will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, the second high-level group to visit while there are military tensions between the self-ruled island and China.
Beijing, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has conducted military drills around the island after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in early August.
China has long claimed sovereignty over the island. Taiwan’s government rejects China’s claims and says the island’s people should decide its future.
The de facto US embassy in Taipei said the delegation is being led by Senator Ed Markey, who is being accompanied by four House lawmakers on what it described as part of a larger visit to the Indo-Pacific region.
Taiwan’s presidential office said the group would meet Tsai on Monday morning.
“Especially at a time when China is raising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the region with military exercises, Markey leading a delegation to visit Taiwan once again demonstrates the United States Congress’ firm support for Taiwan,” it said in a statement.
Markey chairs the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee. The co-leaders of the visit are Representative John Garamendi of the congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group and Representative Don Beyer, a spokesperson for Markey said.
China’s embassy in Washington said on Sunday that “members of the US Congress should act in consistence with the US government’s one-China policy” and argued the latest congressional visit “once again proves that the US does not want to see stability across the Taiwan Straits and has spared no effort to stir up confrontation between the two sides and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said members of Congress have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so, adding that such visits were in accordance with the United States’ long-standing one-China policy.
Under that policy, the United States has official diplomatic relations with Beijing, and not Taiwan. However, Washington does not take a position on whether Beijing has sovereignty over Taiwan, and is bound under US law to provide Taiwan with means to defend itself.
Markey’s office said the lawmakers in Taiwan “will reaffirm the United States’ support for Taiwan as guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, US-China Joint Communiques, and Six Assurances, and will encourage stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.”

’SHARED INTERESTS’
The group will meet “with elected leaders and members of the private sector to discuss shared interests including reducing tensions in the Taiwan Strait and expanding economic cooperation, including investments in semiconductors,” Markey’s office said.
The delegation made a prior stop in South Korea, where Markey met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry published pictures of four lawmakers being met at Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport having arrived on a US air force transport jet, while Markey arrived at the Taoyuan international airport.
“The delegation will meet with senior Taiwan leaders to discuss US-Taiwan relations, regional security, trade and investment, global supply chains, climate change, and other significant issues of mutual interest,” the de facto USembassy said.
While China’s drills around Taiwan have abated, it is still carrying out military activities.
Eleven Chinese military aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line or entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Sunday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said. Thirteen planes crossed the strait on Saturday, the ministry said.
US officials have said Beijing “overreacted” to Pelosi’s visit and used it as a pretext to try to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

 


PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
Updated 14 August 2022

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence

PM urges national dialogue as Pakistan celebrates 75 years of independence
  • Pakistan is facing surging inflation, increasing debts and dwindling foreign reserves
  • PM Sharif said country needs ‘sincere struggle’ toward national reforms

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for national dialogue on Sunday as Pakistan marked its 75th year of independence amid a deepening political crisis and a struggling economy. 

The South Asian nation, which gained independence when the British left and split the subcontinent into the two states of India and Pakistan on Aug. 14, 1947, marked its diamond jubilee with gun salutes in the capital and festive rallies across the country. 

But celebrations this year took place against the backdrop of surging inflation, increasing debts and fast-depleting foreign reserves. Inflation reached 24.9 percent last month, driven mainly by rising food and energy costs, as the Pakistani rupee hit an all-time low against the US dollar. 

Pakistan is also mired in a political crisis, with former Prime Minister Imran Khan leading a campaign against the new coalition government led by Sharif after losing a confidence vote in April that Khan alleged was part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag-hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. 

“We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs.” 

The premier said that the national dialogue can commence through the “charter of economy,” as he envisioned Pakistan’s future as an economic powerhouse. 

“If we can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power?” 

Sharif also said in a statement that nothing is more dangerous than internal division, disruption and chaos. 

Pakistan’s political leadership must devise a plan to resolve its complex issues, Parliamentary Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Shahbaz Babar told Arab News.

“We will have to sit together to work out a comprehensive plan to move forward,” he said.

“All political parties and other relevant stakeholders should understand the gravity of issues Pakistan is faced with and come up with viable solutions.” 

Babar also said the coalition government could reach out to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the coming weeks. 

PTI Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said his party was open to discussions with the government if some conditions are met, such as announcing dates for the next general elections. Khan and members of his party have been demanding new elections since he was dismissed in April. 

“We need freely, fairly and justly held elections,” Hussain said.

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Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol
Updated 14 August 2022

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol
  • Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware
  • Added that the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street

WASHINGTON D.C.: A 29-year-old Delaware man died in an apparent suicide early on Sunday after crashing his car into a barricade near the US Capitol and firing shots into the air, police said.
While the man was getting out of the crashed car, it became engulfed in flames just after 4 a.m. (0800 GMT) at East Capitol Street and Second Street, US Capitol Police said.
Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware. “It is still not clear why he chose to drive to the Capitol Complex,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
Earlier, police said “it does not appear the man was targeting any members of Congress, who are on recess, and it does not appear officers fired their weapons.”
Police said the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street. As police responded and approached, the man shot himself, police said. No one was else injured.
The death is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, which did not immediately identity or any details of his motives.
There are security barricades around the Capitol Complex checkpoints that are closely guarded.
In April 2021, 25-year-old motorist Noah Green rammed a car into US Capitol police and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down. Police shot and killed Green.


Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
Updated 14 August 2022

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
  • The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco
  • Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector

LONDON: Indonesian workers picking berries on a farm supplying four popular UK supermarkets say they have been burdened with debts of up to £5,000 ($6,071) to work in Britain per season.

Pickers at the farm in Kent, south-east England, were initially given zero-hours contracts, and at least one was paid less than £300 a week after the cost of using a caravan was deducted, The Guardian reported.

The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco.

The fees the laborers paid to secure work included flights and visas. But many said they also faced thousands of pounds in extra charges from Indonesian brokers who promised them substantial earnings. This despite it being illegal to charge workers fees for finding them jobs under UK law.

One worker described how he had staked his family home in Bali as surety on the debt and was worried he would lose it.

“Now I’m working hard only to pay back that money. I cannot sleep sometimes. I have a family who need my support to eat and meanwhile, I think about the debt,” he said.

Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector, with many desperate farms and recruitment agencies forced to source labor from outside Europe, where it can be harder to track the methods local brokers use to find workers.

The revelations highlight the prospect of fruit pickers being trapped in debt bondage which would prevent them from leaving work for fear of financial ruin. Migrant rights experts said the situation put workers at risk of what was essentially forced labor.

The Home Office and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority are examining the allegations, while the supermarkets have launched an urgent investigation.

Hundreds of Indonesian farm workers have been recruited to work in Britain this summer on seasonal worker visas, the immigration route created to tackle a shortage of farm workers after the UK left the European Union.

Pickers were sent to Clock House Farm, which supplies berries to major supermarkets.

Clock House said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegations and would “not have entered into an agreement with, or taken workers from, any entity that was involved in such activity (the charging of fees).”

It said it was working with authorities to investigate the claims.


Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
Updated 14 August 2022

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
  • Indian diplomats were recently sent back to the embassy in Afghanistan
  • New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Kabul, experts say 

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry has welcomed the “upgrade” of India’s diplomatic representation in Kabul, as the Taliban administration continued to struggle for recognition by the international community a year after it took over Afghanistan.

India had closed its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August, but New Delhi deployed a technical team earlier this year in June to coordinate their humanitarian efforts and assess the security situation in the country. 

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed on Friday that a batch of diplomats, except for the ambassador, was recently sent back to the embassy in Kabul to address a number of issues, such as humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as development projects. 

The Taliban administration has welcomed the move and promised security and immunity for Indian diplomats in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes India’s step to upgrade its diplomatic representation in Kabul,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

“The Afghan government hopes that upgrading diplomatic representation and dispatching diplomats would strengthen Afghan-India relations leading to the completion of unfinished projects by India and the commencement of new vital projects.” 

Though India was one of the few countries that opposed the reconciliation process with the Taliban in the past, experts said on Sunday that New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Afghanistan. 

“India is keen to engage with the Taliban as New Delhi believes that the Taliban government is going to stay for over five years this time or maybe longer,” Farid Mamundzay, Afghan ambassador to India appointed by the previous government, told Arab News. 

“So it’s important for India’s geopolitical interest to forget the past and form new working relations with Kabul.

An Afghan Foreign Ministry official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media told Arab News that India did not want to be left behind its geopolitical rivals.

“India wants to have its own direct lines of communication to the Afghan government, as well as to counter Pakistani and Chinese influence in Afghanistan,” the official said.

India recently opposed plans by China and Pakistan to involve third countries in their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure project, after Beijing and Islamabad agreed to extend the program to Afghanistan. New Delhi said last month that the proposed participation of third countries on those projects “directly infringes on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

India’s efforts to improve relations with the Taliban government are aimed at protecting its own interests, Torek Farhadi, analyst and advisor to the former Afghan government, told Arab News. 

“When it comes to the Taliban, India will instrumentalize them against Pakistan when it is convenient for New Delhi,” he said. 

“What we need to understand about India is that it is a pragmatic player, driving toward its own interests.”