The residents of Saint Martin’s island located in the southernmost part of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal are deprived of basic rights due to the negligence of the administration in providing them with access to basic necessities.
Time is hard in the unique coral island, the only one of its kind in the country. Locals say the COVID-19 pandemic hit them with a ‘double whammy’ -as prices increased while incomes suffered even more than in the rest of the country, as the main income earner, tourism, completely shut business.
The inhabitants alleged most of them did not get proper assistance from the government during the lockdown period of the pandemic. So they had to go through difficult times with their families. The angry residents also alleged they don’t enjoy basic rights due to the negligence of the administration.
They referred to Article 15 of the constitution of Bangladesh that requires the state to ensure people’s access to basic necessities including food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care.
Mohammad Alom, resident of the island said they were going through a difficult time for various reasons including the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have to survive amid risks. The pandemic hit us hard. Our income is low. But, we have to purchase all daily necessities at high prices,’ he added.
He also said they don’t get proper medical care for not having any doctor in the Island. So they have to suffer and go to the district hospital.
“We are under Teknaf Upazila of Cox’s Bazaar district. But, the administration is reluctant to help us. I didn’t get education in childhood for not having educational institution here. Now our children also can’t study properly due to lack of good teachers and educational institutions here,’ Alom added.
Abdul Aziz, a fisherman of Saint Martin who has been catching fish for over 20 years, said “We are at risk all the time when we go to catch fish in the deep sea. We don’t go to catch fishes during the government’s ban for 87 days including 65 days in the rainy season and 22 days during a comprehensive programme of ‘Mother Hilsa Conservation. Besides, we can’t go out in bad weather in the sea and don’t catch fish every Friday.’ he added.
Abdul Aziz said they don’t get proper support from the government when they face accidents in the sea. “We don’t get mobile phone coverage after crossing the ‘Chhera Dwip’, an uninhabited island. We fall into severe problems when the engine goes dead in the deep sea. We don’t get mobile network to inform our relatives,’ he said.
He urged the government to set up a strong tower for better mobile network services in the island.
Contacted, Union Parishad (UP) member of the Island Habibur Rahman Khan said “We have given notices to the district administration many times but they don’t take any initiative to ensure our rights. The government should give importance to the Island as we contribute to the national economy,’ he said.
He said there are two primary schools, one high school that will be upgraded into a college. But there are no good teachers here. How will the institution be run?
He said the government set up a hospital 10 years ago but there is no doctor and medical equipment. “Around 10,000 people live in the island. Of them, there are 600 listed fishermen out of 1454 fishermen. We can’t assist them properly in the pandemic period due to lack of enough relief,’ he added.
Habibur Rahman said the government should ensure strong connectivity between Saint Martin, Teknaf, Cox’s bazar and Chattogram to attract tourists.
He said now around 1500 tourists daily visit the most popular tourist spot in the country. It was shut from March 19 following the pandemic. The main tourist season is from November to January month. – News Desk with UNB