Muhammad Yunus

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

imgresMuhammad Yunus was born in 28 June of 1940 in the village of Bathua, near Chittagong,  what was then Eastern Bengal.  He studied at Dhaka University, East Pakistan now Bangladesh, and graduated with MA degree in economics.  He qualified for  Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University and received his Ph.D. in economics  in 1969. The following year he became an assistant professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University. Returning to Bangladesh in 1972 Dr.Yunus headed the economics department at Chittagong University.

His father was a successful goldsmith who always encouraged his sons to seek higher education. But his biggest influence was his mother,  who always helped any poor that knocked on their door. This inspired him to commit himself to eradication of poverty. In 1974, Professor Muhammad Yunus,  led his students on a field trip to a poor village. They interviewed a woman who made bamboo basket, and found out that she had to borrow the equivalent of 10 cent to buy raw bamboo for each basket made. After repaying the middleman, sometimes at rates as high as 10% a week, she was left with a few cent in profit. Had she been able to borrow at lower rates, she would have been able to make some money and raise herself above subsistence level.

Dr.Yunus took matters into his own hands, and from his own pocket lent  money equivalent $27 to  basket-weavers. He found that it was possible with this tiny amount not only to help them survive, but also to create the spark of personal initiative and enterprise necessary to pull themselves out of poverty.

Against the advice of banks and government, Yunus carried on giving out micro-loans, and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank, meaning village bank founded on principles of trust and solidarity. In Bangladesh today, Grameen Bank has 2,564 branches, with 19,800 staff serving 8.29 million borrowers in 81,367 villages. On any working day Grameen Bank collects an average of $1.5 million in weekly installments. Of the borrowers, 97% are women and over 97% of the loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system. Grameen methods are applied in projects in 58 countries, including the US, Canada and France.

Muhammad Yunus has shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other countries. Loans to poor people without any financial security was an impossible idea. From modest beginnings three decades ago, Yunus has, first and foremost through Grameen Bank, developed micro-credit into an ever more important instrument in the struggle against poverty.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus was the first Bangladeshi to  get a Nobel Prize in 2006. After receiving the news of the award, Yunus announced that he would use part of his share of the $1.4 million award money to create a company to make low-cost, high-nutrition food for the poor; while the rest would go toward setting up an eye hospital for the poor in Bangladesh. He has earned many prestigious awards.

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

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U.S. Bangladeshis Track Climate Changes Back Home

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By New America Media, Ngoc Nguyen

Mohammed Khan was a child when the deadliest cyclone ever recorded struck Bangladesh (at the time East Pakistan) in 1970. The cyclone brought torrential rains and winds stronger than those seen during Hurricane Katrina. As many as half a million people were killed. Then river waters rose and claimed the land.

“My family lives on an island called Bhola,” Khan recalls. “They have some land, but a lot of the land was taken by the river during a great flood.”

Khan, 51, who now lives in Queens, N.Y., has a daughter and more than 200 family members in Bangladesh. He’s worried about how his large extended family will fare when the next cyclone strikes, and he fears climate change will worsen such disasters.

“As the water levels rise in the next few years, much of southern Bangladesh will go into the womb of the river,” he says.

Concern about climate change among the public has waned, but the issue is foremost among many Bangladeshi Americans, because of the vulnerability of Bangladesh to climate change. Some community members are organizing seminars to learn about how rising seas and extreme weather will play out in their home country, and they’re making their voices heard on the political front.

Bangladesh is often considered ground zero for climate change. Crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers, much of the country is a massive flat delta, extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. As global warming pushes sea levels higher, Bangladesh would have the most land inundated among its South Asian neighbors, according to the World Bank. If sea levels rise by one meter, as much as a fifth of the country could be submerged, displacing about 20 million people.

In the last few years, awareness about climate change has grown among Bangladeshi Americans.

Hasan Rahim, a software engineering consultant based in San Jose, says Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was a wake-up call for him and many Bangladeshis in Silicon Valley. Rahim, who also teaches math and statistics at San Jose City College, says he organized screenings of the film in his community.

Rahim connected the film’s dire predictions about climate change to his homeland. “We live here, but we have roots there,” he says. “We are connected and we have got to become more aware of [climate change impacts].”

More than a dozen rivers, including the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra, Jamuna and Meghna, flow across Bangladesh, emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The southern part of the country is a massive delta, with its fertile land known as the country’s rice bowl.

“It’s really a concern. We’re a small country with 150 million people, so lots of people would lose their houses, land, and become homeless,” says Abu Taher, editor of the newspaper Bangla Patrik, in New York. He says people want to know the future consequences of climate change on the country so they can tell family members to take precautions.

When he travels to Bangladesh, Khan says he notices changes in the environment. There used to be three crop seasons, he says, but now there’s one. “Normally, we would have floods during the rainy season, but now there is no one season for floods anymore,” Khan adds.

A construction worker, Khan also heads up a group made up of immigrants from Barisal, a southern province that is frequently hard hit by cyclones and flooding. The group has organized seminars to learn more about how climate change will affect Bangladesh. From the United States, Khan says he sometimes feels powerless to help his family back home.

“There’s nowhere for them to go. Bangladesh is a small country,” he says. “Where would they get the land? Who will give us the money? I can just advise them to use the deep tube wells to get clean water.”

Khan says his group wants to share the information with U.S. elected officials, and tell them they want the United States to curb its own pollution and help vulnerable nations.

“America as a leader should help all the poor and affected countries, including Bangladesh,” Khan says. “Affected families are dying without food, without a roof over their heads. We should provide financial assistance and even bring them here.”

In the last two decades, Bangladesh suffered the most deaths and greatest economic losses as a result of extreme weather events, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2010.

At the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, the United States and other developed nations pledged $100 billion in aid to countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“It would make all the difference in the world if the aid were used not to buy finished products like solar panels, but to develop local indigenous talent,” says Rahim.

Bangladeshis have already had to adapt to higher sea levels, Rahim says.

“People who raised chickens are now raising ducks,” he says, and farmers are experimenting with “floating seed beds” to save crops during floods.

Until more funds are directed to helping people adapt to climate change, more frequent and more intense storms and floods will create more environmental refugees.

Queens resident Sheikh Islam says refugees have already poured into the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, which the World Wildlife Federation ranked as the city most vulnerable to climate change impacts out of 11 Asian coastal cities.

Islam says there’s more recognition now that climate change is causing the refugee surge into the city.

“They thought the migrants who came to the city were just jobless and landless. Now, the government is mentioning that they are jobless and landless because of climate change,” he says.

Islam says there’s also a growing perception that Western developed countries bear more responsibility for the problem because they contribute the most to carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

“Now, people know about climate change and they are talking about it,” Islam says. “Three to five years ago they don’t talk about it. They thought it was our problem. Now they think it is a global problem.”

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