Looking beyond the Rana Plaza tragedy

Shahabuddin Ahmad

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, a saying derived from the English poet, Milton’s ‘Comus’, seems one appropriate for the people of Bangladesh to reflect on in the wake of the devastating tragedy in Savar, which has, once again, focussed international attention on the country. But where is it possible to detect such a silver lining under such circumstances?
Inevitably, the, ’blame game’ will play out, and the demands for revenge and restitution become more strident, whilst the world turns its attention elsewhere.
Sensible consideration of this fact, despite the horror of its genesis, represents a potential opportunity, not only for the social and economic development much needed, but especially, perhaps, for the members of BGMEA to redeem their increasingly tarnished reputation.
Garment manufacturing and export is part of a three thousand year tradition in these lands of the Ganges and Brahmaputra delta, and there can be little doubt that lives were continuously lost in the practice of the international centre of trade that archaeological evidence, such as the finds at Wari Bateshwar and Mahasthangarh, support. And the circumstantial evidence of the enormous wealth generated includes the philosophical heritage, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and even Islam, with hundreds of ancient sites, many of them the largest such in the world, offers further support.
That, at least, whilst in no way diminishing the scale of human tragedy involved at Savar, could contextualise it. There can be little doubt that the urgency of the potential for rapid wealth creation, which throughout the ages no doubt enriched, mostly, the few, corners were cut throughout those centuries.
But whatever the cause of this immediate tragedy, and it is possible that an independent enquiry which, at least, it is to be hoped that international retailers will interest themselves in, the international horror offers up a unique opportunity for all those who may be inclined to share in the guilt, from garment manufacturers, through public authorities, to garment retailers, and even shoppers across the developed world, to do something to help to assuage any residual sense of guilt, before it is forgotten.
As we all know, Bangladesh lags far behind its neighbours in the development of inbound tourism, the one form of foreign currency earning that brings people to the country. There are, of course, many identified causes of this, from inhospitable and unhelpful embassy visa officers, through lack of airline competition and inadequate development of hospitality facilities and training of staff, to poor presentation of the rich archaeological heritage that we know underpins high value international tourism, together with the facilities for shopping and eating out which are also indispensible, and which Bangladesh is already well equipped to provide.
What is needed at this particular moment in time is some articulate spokespeople for Bangladesh to go onto the attack on a world that is determinedly unaware of the reality of what Bangladesh has to offer alongside disasters, and contextualise this appalling tragedy, and how shoppers can make amends.
What is also needed is informed investment in the development to overcome the shortcomings in tourist services delivery, and the training required to develop the international standards required to service tourists from that vital, socially and environmentally aware group, who happen generally, to be the best educated, and most affluent.
Above all, and there seems no reason at all why BGMEA members should not go short of the odd BMW to finance it, a Communications Strategy, to contextualise, and lay the foundations that could justify investment in what could, certainly, be the ‘next big thing’ for the economy in the development of the kind of high quality tourism that India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, and, increasingly, Myanmar are so good at.
It is clear that many businessmen in Bangladesh have little idea how to undertake such sophisticated work, and most academics are richer in the theory than the practice. But, whilst the thoughts of the world linger in Bangladesh, this could be another unique window for Bangladesh to look beyond the tragedy, and recover some initiative, in continuing its ancient tradition of travel and trade, and the creation of much needed, higher value jobs, especially for younger people.
No doubt, if history is anything to go by, there will be other such tragedies, and if predictions about vulnerability to earthquakes are anything to go by, they may be even more devastating, but now is the time to plan to move forward, rather than indulge in an orgy of blame.
Short of natural disasters (tsumi, earthquake, tornados) tourism inventories of Bangladesh can take safer outfits and are promising. Bangladesh had the potential in the past and will continue to have it for now and for future.
Email: ttw1@hotmail.com
Source: Weekly Holiday

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