The world is undergoing an economic recession due to the ongoing pandemic. Just a couple of months ago, we could not imagine such a time would come.
As social distancing is the key to containing the spread of Covid-19, a virus that has engulfed the world severely, a debate has started over establishing cattle markets ahead of Eid-ul-Adha, one of the two Islamic festivals observed worldwide by Muslims, where sacrificing of animals matters the most.
It cannot be said that decision to bar setting up of cattle market across the country will play a significant role in easing the problem, since it can affect marginalised farmers and harm the economy of the country.
It is worth mentioning that 80 percent marginalised farmers do cattle rearing, besides working on agricultural land with a hope to sell the animals in the Eid cattle markets and earn some profit.
But this year the Eid-ul-Adha has arrived during the unexpected coronavirus pandemic and washed away their hopes of receiving a reasonable price for the cattle. Also, their anxieties doubled when they were informed of little scope to sell their animals in the market.
Around 1.19 crore cattle are ready to be sacrificed on Eid-ul-Adha this year, a number which is higher than last year.
At least 1,250-1,300 temporary cattle markets are established every year across the country through legal bids, while at least 600 to 700 unauthorised ones spur up on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha. Apart from these, two city corporations of Dhaka run almost 30 cattle markets in the city and its surroundings.
According to different surveys, 70 percent of the demand for sacrificial animals is met by farmers while the remaining are filled up by agro farming in the country.
For the last couple of years, we have been hearing of online cattle markets. It is a digital platform where buyers and sellers connect through a website.
But it has not been popular in attracting the common people of the country. Moreover, in many cases, access is still limited due to technological limitations.
Anyhow, considering the prevailing health hazards, experts and organisation of physicians urged the authorities to not set up a cattle markets on Eid-ul-Adha as they think that it would be challenging to maintain social distance in the marketplace.
"As thousands of sellers and buyers gather at cattle markets, it could turn into a major cluster for coronavirus infections," said Prof Nazrul Islam, an eminent virologist.
Yes, we agree that we failed to make the people understand the significance of social distancing, especially in the rural areas where people are very indifferent about maintaining social distance and hardly wear masks and hand gloves.
In recent times, on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha, the countryside cattle markets were flooded with thousands of people. The worry is haat goers are not maintaining social distance.
The cattle are kept in rows and people are standing nearby smoking, coughing and spitting, transforming the whole environment into the state of a great health risk, while local market owners act as if they had nothing to do.
However, the focus of the authorities ensuring social distancing in the cattle markets should not be Dhaka-based, rather it is time to identify the major problems and make all arrangements for the safety of all people, irrespective of their locations.
To be fair, there are hardly any alternatives to setting up Eid cattle markets across the country even in the Covid-19 time. There is no doubt that the online cattle market will contribute to buying and selling in safe environments, thus helping maintain social distance. However, taking things as a whole, we have to venture into physical cattle markets for the sake of the farmers and the economy.
In this regard, some steps may be considered. It is imperative to form makeshift cattle market management committees under the surveillance of District Commissioner, and the Police Superintendent and the Upazila Nirbahi Officer will carry out every task in this connection. Besides, mobile courts have to operate in cattle markets to avoid violation of social distancing rules.
All makeshift cattle markets, irrespective of their location, must follow health guidelines and maintain social distance. The law enforcing authority and vigilance teams should always be strict in ensuring a minimum hygienic environment in the localities and bring in more manpower to handle the situation.
Open places must be chosen for cattle markets so that social distancing is possible. Nobody should be allowed to enter the market until he is protected. Old people will not be allowed in the cattle markets.
Alaul Alam teaches at Prime University. He can be reached at email@example.com