Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tearing Down the Mountains

Bangladesh is an extremely fertile land –the sediment from the Himalayas and the rain from the summer monsoon make food abundant. They can grow two crops of rice a year and grow vegetables like potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage and squash during the winter. The rivers and ponds provide lots and lots of fish! The population of Bangladesh is growing rapidly and the Bangladeshi way of life is changing. People are leaving the rice paddies and fishing boats of their native villages behind and becoming business men, shopkeepers and cycle-rickshaw wallahs (see photo) in the city. These are hard-working people trying to find a better life for their families – a sentiment near and dear to our hearts in the USA!

What Bangladesh lacks is rock! The bedrock is many miles below the city so the buildings lack a firm foundation. Bangladeshi houses used to be made from straw and mud – which wouldn’t hurt you in an earthquake – but now they’re made of brick and concrete, which can crush you in an earthquake if they’re not reinforced enough!

Bricks are made from sand and mud (Bangladesh has plenty!) but need to be cooked. They burn coal to cook the bricks, but Bangladesh must import this coal from India. Limestone is a key ingredient for cement, and Bangladesh must also import this from India. The photo shows girls walking to school near a cement factory. This is leading to destruction of the environment in the highlands of Meghalaya, India and the rivers that carry rocks into Bangladesh. The beautiful landscape is being torn apart to provide limestone, coal and hard rock for construction in Bangladesh. This provides jobs for people, but they require back-breaking labor for very little pay. A man working in a quarry told us that hundreds of people have been killed by falling rock. We’ve seen many children doing work like hauling rocks on their heads and shoveling coal into trucks when they should be in school.

The photos above show a lime kiln where they cook the limestone before making cement; a boy who works all day shoveling coal; trucks transporting coal from India to Bangladesh.

There is no easy solution to these environmental and social issues, but birth control would help. Some families have 10 or more children, and it becomes impossible for the mother and father to feed them all with only one or two incomes. Planned urban development would make construction safer and improve city services like garbage collection. The cities are not equipped to deal with the garbage produced by the now-massive population. People throw rubbish in the street and it makes the cities very dirty. Industries like tourism can provide jobs without so much damage to the environment, but few people will want to visit the country if they can’t get the garbage under control!

Can you think of any other solutions to these problems?

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