United Nations SecretaryGeneral Kurt Waldheim has predicted that conditions in Bangladesh will be even worse in 1973 than they were in 1972. His grim prophecy comes after a year of the most intensive relief feeding programme ever mounted by the UN.
Reports coming back from different areas of Bangladesh tell the same story of a nation not far from collapse. Inflation has run riot in the last six months, trebling the price of most items and putting the cost of essential purchases like soap, medicines, rice, and clothes beyond the means of the poorest people. Saris which cost 28 rupees a year ago Lire now selling at 80 rupees or more.
No rain has fallen for the past year in the chief rice-growing areas of the North-West and along the tong border with India. This means that a three million ton grain shortage will have to be made up by imports at a time when world prices are sky-high.
Lack of food and medicine is sapping the new nation's health and resilience. Two million Bangladeshi children are already chronically malnourished and a nation of 80 million people is being served by only 7,200 doctors - one doctor for every 11,000 needy people as compared with one for every 640 in Europe.
Violence is flaring in the worst hit areas: over 160 officials of the governing Awami League Party have been murdered in the last year. In this tense climate, the still vulnerable position of the Biharis is again giving cause for concern.
To add to Prime Minister Mujibur Rehman's long list of woes, the European Community is due to meet soon to discuss a possible revision of quotas of jute allowed into the EEC. Bangladesh earns 95% of its foreign exchange from exporting jute and any downward revision of quotas decided upon in the elegant salons of Brussels could make life unlivable for thousands in the fields and factories of Bangladesh.
Underlying all these symptoms of collapse is the breakdown of organization and infrastructure over much of the new nation. Literacy programmes, family planning campaigns, medical services, and many of the long-standing agricultural co-operatives are grinding to a halt.
Fragmented left-wing groups are gaining some support in the face of the threatened breakdown, but at the moment there is no sign of an organized opposition capable of picking up the pieces of Bangladesh.
Harris Anit, a Ceylonese who has worked in agricultural development for nineteen years and who is now running the £6 million ecumenical programme in Bangladesh, is known to believe that the present relief feeding programme is reducing Bangladesh to a nation
of beggars and producing a negative long-term effect. Amit and many other relief workers on the spot are now advocating that feeding programmes should be stopped, even at the cost of lives, in order to concentrate on helping to build irrigation schemes and agricultural programmes which, they say, will bring far more benefit to far more people in the longer-term.
Meanwhile some Bangladeshis are crossing into India in search of food, and although it is reported that the Indian government has 'D'-Noticed all mention of this potentially inflammable situation, a large community of Bangladeshis is already living in appalling conditions ten miles inside India.