Hasina highlights food security as world faces hard times

She attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in London and the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly during the 18-day trip

News Desk
Published : 6 Oct 2022, 10:12 AM
Updated : 6 Oct 2022, 10:12 AM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says the world will face even more difficult times in 2023 and countries may face severe crises such as famines.

These discussions were part of her interactions with world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Hasina said at a media conference on Thursday, where she discussed her recent trip to the UK and US.

“Our country is already disaster-prone. On the one hand, we have to deal with natural disasters, and on the other, we have to face man-made ones,” she said.

She left Dhaka for London on Sept 15. There, the prime minister, accompanied by her sister, Sheikh Rehana, joined a host of other world leaders in paying their respects to Britain's longest-reigning monarch at Westminster Hall ahead of the state funeral.

Hasina said she wrote a condolence message in Bangla on behalf of the people of Bangladesh and her family at Lancaster Hall.

After attending the funeral at Westminister Abbey and the accession ceremony for King Charles III, she flew to New York on Sept 19.

At the UN headquarters in New York, the prime minister took part in nine high-level meetings and side events.

Hasina also attended a reception hosted by US President Joe Biden for the heads of state participating in the UNGA on Sept 21. The prime minister said she invited President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden to visit Bangladesh.

Hasina addressed the UNGA in Bangla on Sept 23. In her speech, the premier emphasised the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine for developing nations such as Bangladesh, particularly the effects of the measures and counter-measures taken by the warring sides in Europe and their allies.

The Bangladesh leader stressed the importance of mutual solidarity at a time when the world has barely shaken off the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. She called on the international community to resolve all crises and disputes through dialogue rather than imposing economic sanctions and counter-sanctions.

On Thursday, she urged the people of Bangladesh to give greater consideration to food security. “Whatever agricultural land or water bodies you own, make use of them.

Hasina also highlighted the importance of ensuring food security in the face of the current economic and environmental challenges.

She called on her countrymen to utilise every bit of arable land at their disposal. "Not a single inch of [fertile] land should go unused," she said while reiterating the need to practise austerity.

However, Hasina said Bangladesh’s economy was overcoming the twin crises of the pandemic and the Ukraine war and was able to keep going.

“I can assure you that Bangladesh faces no risks in the long term or medium term,” she said. “I believe and I can assure everyone that we will be able to achieve our targeted growth rate.”

There are no issues with the budget and the government is working swiftly to complete the most urgent projects, the prime minister said.

‘I’M FULLY PREPARED TO SAY GOODBYE’

Hasina said she was completely prepared to give up the leadership of the Awami League if the party called for her to do so.

“If a single Awami League councillor does not want me to lead the party, I will step aside,” she said in response to a question about the upcoming Awami League party council.

Hasina said that she was ready to retire because the timing was appropriate.

She said she had helped to restore democracy in Bangladesh after overcoming many hurdles and had served as prime minister for three consecutive terms.

The 75-year-old Awami League president said several times that she was ready to retire, but continued in the role at the urging of her party’s activists.

Hasina also commented on the American sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, an anti-terrorism agency.

She questioned the rationale behind the sanctions imposed on the RAB and some of its top officials by the United States for alleged human rights abuses. The move to sanction the RAB is “in effect helping terrorists”.

Responding to a question on the issue, Hasina said the RAB was formed on Washington's recommendation, adding that the force received training as well some of its equipment from the US.

"They are acting how they've been trained to act. They'd be doing better had they been trained better.”

MYANMAR BORDER TENSIONS

Bangladesh is currently providing refuge to more than 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingya, most of whom fled persecution in Myanmar in 2017.

However, concerns over a fresh influx of the ethnic minority group from Myanmar's Rakhine state have grown in recent months in the wake of an ongoing conflict between the ruling junta and insurgents.

Last month, a Rohingya teenager was killed and several others injured when a shell fired from Myanmar landed on a settlement in a strip of land between the country's border with Bangladesh. Two Bangladeshis have also lost their legs in mine explosions near the border in Bandarban.

But Hasina is wary about the prospect of taking in more refugees, as she highlighted the socio-economic impact that the presence of the Rohingya is having on Bangladesh.

Efforts are being made to repatriate the Rohingya, but there is a lack of willingness on the part of Myanmar to take them back, according to the prime minister.

On the ongoing conflict near the border, Hasina said it is an 'internal matter' for Myanmar and so, Bangladesh will not interfere in it. However, she warned that the country will not allow the conflict to spill into its territory.

‘CAN’T FORCE BNP INTO VOTE’

The prime minister said the government cannot force the BNP and its allies to contest in the next parliamentary election as they have threatened a boycott if Hasina does not resign before the polls. They have demanded an election-time caretaker government.

“But I of course want all the parties to participate in the polls.”

Hasina did not sound keen on holding talks with the rival political parties over the election. “I held discussions with everyone before the last election. Then they blamed us for their debacle in the polls after nominating 700 candidates for 300 seats.”

“The Awami League was not formed by a military dictator and it never usurped power. It always came to power with the people’s mandate.

“It also worked for the improvement of the election system by forming the Grand Alliance. I have nothing to do if someone doesn’t want to come even after these [efforts to improve the electoral system]. We can’t make everyone contest and win in elections.”

Hasina said the BNP has threatened a boycott because it is wary of how people would react to its deadly protests on the ballot during and after the 2014 elections.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher