The state of Bangladesh, little more than two years old, lives perpetually on the brink of disaster.
The state of Bangladesh, little more than two years old, lives perpetually on the brink of disaster. It takes only the monsoon floods to push this nation over the edge - and the floods have come again this year.
With it comes the agonisingly familier pattern of death, destruction, hunger and poverty, alleviated only in part by the inflow of food and aid from government and relief agencies. And little can be done, it seems, to break out of the cycle of calamity.
Monsoon flooding has always been part of life in the Indian sub-continent where the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra flow into the Bay of Bengal. But in 1970, when the floods were particularly vicious and when what is now Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan, a tide of resentment at the Pakistani government's apparent lack of concern rose with the flood waters.
In the resultant bitter war of independence, Bangladesh was born early in 1972. Sheik Mujibur Rahman, a lifelong fighter for the Bengali cause, was hailed as the father of the new nation. Bangladesh had earned status and a seat at the united Nations and, in Sheik Mujib, a dominant figure who seemed capable of uniting the fragmentary elements within a volatile community.
But the euphoria of independence receded in the face of the realities. A national flag is no defence against nature and a seat at the U.N. is no guarantee against hunger. Monsoons, cyclones and floods have consistently hit Bangladesh just the way they did before independence and the result is that most of the 75 million people in Bangladesh live in the depths of poverty and three-quarters of them suffer from some form of malnutrition.
The nation's one money-earning commodity - jute - was thought last year to be capable of earning enough to pay for almost 90 per cent of Bangladesh imports, but even this reasonable hope has been shattered by the rise in world prices of the food Bangladesh imports and also by a reduction of jute output brought about by farmers who have switched to growing rice simply so as to provide themselves with food.
At times of disaster, the world's agencies do their best to help. But there is a growing reluctance to do so, since the experience of previous years has spread the suspicion that the least part of the aid contributed is mis-appropriated and never reaches the needy.
Clearly, the only way to bring permanent relief to Bangladesh is to contain the rivers which regularly submerge the country when the monsoon rains come. But this would be a gigantic engineering undertaking costing millions and at present there is no sign of either the will or the money to do it.
In the meantime, Bangladesh struggles along as best it can, living with disaster and holding out an empty food bowl to the rest of the world.
SYNOPSIS: Bangladesh....where flood disasters like this are a way of life. It was the apparent lack of interest in their plight by the Pakistan government which led the people of this nation to fight free of Pakistan and win their independence in 1972.
They fought a bitter civil war to win their freedom, but recurring natural calamity was a continuing part of the life of this young nation.
Skeik Mujibur Rahman, a national hero who had spent a lifetime struggling to win recognition for an independent Bengali people, was sworn in as their leader and was hailed as the father of the nation. It was a personal and political triumph....but it did nothing to deflect the cycle of natural disasters which hits this corner of the world every year.
Bangladesh has earned status and a seat at the United Nations and, in Sheik Mujib, a dominant figure who seemed capable of uniting the fragmentary elements within a volatile community. But a national flag is no defence against a monsoon....and in that battle, Bangladesh has few weapons to deploy.
Floods and the resultant destruction have hit Bangladesh as regularly as they did before independence. The result is that most of this nation's 75 million people live in the depths of poverty and three-quarters of them suffer from some form of malnutrition.
As the result of war and flooding, millions have flocked to the capital, Dacca, where they are forced to live in miserable conditions and to line up for food wherever they can find it.
At times of disaster, the world's relief agencies do their best to help.
But there is a growing reductions to do so, in the face of a suspicion that part of the aid is mis-appropriate and never reaches the hungry.
Only a miracle or vast amounts of money, it seems, can alter the pattern of natural disaster here, and neither are in sight. Meantime, Bangladesh can only hold out an empty bowl - and hope.