• Tuesday, Jun 02, 2020
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A crisis brings out the best and worst in us

  • Published at 05:19 pm April 3rd, 2020
Dhaka city empty flyover
This new landscape will change people’s behavior Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

We will see a rise in philanthropy, but also in predatory behaviour

History, as documented or experienced in personal lives, tells us that the inherent good and bad in us emerges strongly in times of crises, be they wars, natural calamities, or pandemics. 

There are those who work without fanfare and publicity to alleviate some of the sufferings of the unfortunate unable to fend for themselves. 

There are others that do similar work but like people to know what they’re doing. To be fair to them, it encourages others to join the fray. And then again, there are those that seek to profit on misfortunes. To cite two examples, the initiative of a UNO who will use her one month’s salary to feed the poor, and a local politician who sent people to buy oil from the government’s open-market sales and allegedly beat up a journalist for reporting on it.

Therein lies the danger. The government’s much lauded move to provide homes for the homeless and six months’ food for those that rely on daily earnings to put food on the table for their families may give rise to pilferage by those entrusted to ensure distribution. 

The lack of public confidence has been manifest in the demand that the army and not the civil administration and local bodies be given the responsibility. Unfortunately, this is a way of life in most developing countries. Beyond the official accounts of how much has been made available lies the frustration of the intended persons lamenting that little if any relief reached them. 

There are discoveries highlighted by the media and social media, a lot of tut-tutting and then it’s all forgotten. 

It’s not often that governments declare lockdowns and confine citizens to their homes at very short notice. As has been the case with India, a massive number of daily bread earners were caught flat-footed. In the midst of transport bans, many are having to traipse hundreds of kilometres by foot without anything to eat. 

Some have been subject to being sprayed with disinfectants in a manner that defies humanity. In developing countries, law enforcers have resorted to use of force to make people comply with the lockdown and some countries have introduced stiff fines as a means of enforcement. 

In densely populated countries such as Bangladesh, markets are essentially unstructured and social distancing is next to impossible. That no guidelines for such countries have emanated doesn’t say a lot for any global vision of the WHO or, indeed, the United Nations. 

Think of the slums where people are crammed in a single room of sorts with a common toilet and washing facilities. That’s where advice such as confining a suspected Covid-19 patient to a room with separate utensils and bathroom is somewhat of a joke. The developed countries have failed to control panic buying, leaving stores with empty shelves. 

Thankfully, they have been able to keep prices at approved rates, barring essential protective equipment where supply has been outstripped by demand. For now, Bangladesh markets for essentials have supply and lower demand with people having stocked up and businesses tearing their hair. 

Once the extended holidays are over, businessmen will get even. They always do so at times of festivals and religious occasions, despite the government’s efforts to provide duty relief and open-market sales.  

Unscrupulous traders and pharmacies have made their money as an unprecedented demand for masks and sanitizers came to be. Yes, there were the occasional interventions that led to fines and such, but the bulk of the hapless consumers felt the pinch.

Matters will probably get worse before they get better and, with the economy taking a major hit, the laws of nature suggest a social unrest arising from want and hunger is inevitable. 

The good news is that more people will be moved into philanthropy. The bad news is that sharks will become even more active. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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