Mizanur Rahman Shelley
The abiding link between the two events was not visible. Nevertheless, the innate significance radiated by both cannot but strike a responsive chord in sensitive hearts. The earlier event happened in Japan in a relief and rehabilitation center. It exemplified an instance of touching sacrifice by a teenager. Details of the moving incident will follow in a later paragraph.
The latest happening took place in Dhaka on the May 18 as representatives of Japan and Bangladesh signed a credit agreement of $415 million for the construction of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge. On the same day, Japan also signed two more agreements worth
$215 million for two other projects — $55 million for SMEs development and $160 million for a water treatment plant in Khulna.
Japan has always been a generous and energetic development partner of Bangladesh. It has contributed a massive total of $10 billion for development of Bangladesh since the liberation of the country in 1971. In that context the latest chunk of assistance on very soft terms is not an unprecedented happening. What makes it unique is the fact that it came hardly three months after the devastating row of disasters that hit Japan in the first half of March.
The devastating earthquake, 8.9 on the Richter scale, the sweeping tsunami caused by the terrible tremor and the subsequent nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima disrupted life not only in the affected zone of the North East regions but also throughout the island-nation.
These awesome events together signified “a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.” Around 10,000 perished and more than 15,000 went missing. Hundreds of thousands were displaced, enhancing manifold the woes of the disaster-riddled people of Japan.
The other touching event occurred in Japan at a centre for distribution of food to the displaced who had lost their homes and belongings to the ravages of nature. Here a 15-year-old boy stood at the back of a long queue for receiving meager ration. An elderly man at the top of the queue received his share and full of sympathy for the youth in the back offered his parcel to the boy. The young man received the same but with undaunted spirit put it back on the table and said that he would wait his turn. His action reflected in full the undying spirit of altruism and abiding sense of honour which through ages have helped Japan to rise like a new Phoenix from all-encompassing disasters.
Only unparalleled empathy can equip human beings with the spirit of incomparable sacrifice. One remembers with great respect the sacrifice of the superior British officer who, despite being gravely wounded in war and suffering from great thirst, handed over his flask of water to a fellow soldier in pain and said: “Thy need is greater than mine.” Happenings such as these are rarely experienced in a cruelly selfish world.
It is in this context of humanity caught in the jaws of self-centered life that the moving altruistic actions of the Japanese teenager and the people of Japan have to be measured. The boy who gave up his much needed ration and waited for his turn, and his great nation that, despite being reduced by disasters, kept its promise to Bangladesh epitomise the same spirit of noble humanity.
Japan’s woes are not the creation of the recent disasters alone. Even before these hit Japan, worldwide recession and domestic economic downturn adversely affected the country. Banks and financial institutions faced grave crises, caused by both global downturn and internal problems. The rate of growth of GDP was not encouraging. The burden of the increasing number of elderly people continued to pose challenges to the economy. No wonder that even as the disasters hit Japan it slid down from the position of the second largest to that of the third largest economy in today’s world.
The situation was worsened by the devastations of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear plant disasters. It was estimated that the cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the affected zones would go beyond $320 billion. This does not take into full account the cost of the damage caused by the nuclear plant disasters.
All these reverses could not deter a dauntless Japan from redeeming its promise to Bangladesh. Unlike some others it did not refrain from honouring its promise on the plea of changed circumstances. On the contrary, like a true friend Japan, despite her manifold troubles, continued to extend a helping hand to a friend whose needs are greater. Bangladesh can truly appreciate this noble help by putting it to positive use with fool-proof transparency and accountability.
The writer is Chairman, Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and Editor, quarterly “Asian Affairs.”