Audity Falguni

Divisional Editor, nari.news

Relevance of Translation in post-COVID 19 World

The story of Migdal Bavel (Tower of Babel) narrates that God confounded speech of a single language speaking human race and so they got scattered all over the world. Today there are 6,500 languages in the world of which three have already been lost in last three months of COVID-19, according to UNESCO.

Now, what is translation? We know the tale of Averros depicted by Jorges Luis Borges where the Arabian translator of Greek texts cannot find any synonym for the Greek word “Tragedy” in Arabic. Abhiman is the sweet Bengali word which can hardly be translated.

Against the backdrop of this global lockdown, relevance of translation is getting enhanced each and every day to hold official meetings, online classes and vocational exchanges both at national and global level.

Pandemics as defined in literary history

According to Misha Ketchel, “From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises (Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history, The Conversation, March 16 2020).

Homer’s Iliad, as the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has reminded us, opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy to punish the Greeks for Agamemnon’s enslavement of Chryseis.

The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, set during the Black Death, reveals the vital role of storytelling in a time of disaster. Ten people self-isolate in a villa outside Florence for two weeks during the Black Death. In the course of their isolation, the characters take turns to tell stories of morality, love, sexual politics, trade and power.

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death (1842) also depicts the failures of authority figures to adequately and humanely respond to such a disaster. The Red Death causes fatal bleeding from the pores. In response, Prince Prospero gathers a thousand courtiers into a secluded but luxurious abbey, welds the gates closed and hosts a masked ball. In the 20th century, Albert Camus’ The Plague (1942) and Stephen King’s The Stand (1978) brought readers’ attentions to the social implications of plague-like pandemics.

Covid-19: The history of pandemics

The plague of Justinian struck in the 6th Century and killed as many as 50 million people, perhaps half the global population at the time. The Black Death of the 14th Century – likely caused by the same pathogen – may have killed up to 200 million people. Smallpox may have killed as many as 300 million people in the 20th Century alone, even though an effective vaccine – the world’s first – had been available since 1796.

Some 50 to 100 million people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic – numbers that surpass the death toll of World War One, which was being fought at the same time. The 1918 flu virus infected one in every three people on the planet. HIV, a pandemic that is still with us and still lacks a vaccine, has killed an estimated 32 million people and infected 75 million, with more added every day.

Economic Impact of COVID 19: Home and Abroad

According to the forecast released by the Economist Intelligence Unit on 26 March, the global economy is expected to contract by -2.2% in 2020. These effects are expected to be more pronounced in major G20 economies, such as Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the US – all countries that are major markets for Bangladesh’s most vital tradeable good: readymade garments.

With lockdowns currently imposed across Europe and North America until mid-April, even in the best-case scenario it will take at least until mid-June for market confidence to be restored in these economies. The implication is that nearly six million workers in Bangladesh’s formal sector – which is largely manufacturing – will be without steady work for an extended period.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 round the globe

The depressed oil prices will also lead to a strong reversal of growth in the Middle East and North Africa region, which is also home to a large Bangladeshi diaspora, who send back close to $20 billion every year. In the coming months, there can be no doubt that there will be a decrease in remittances and that these second-degree impacts will also be felt in the country, painfully in rural Bangladesh, where families rely heavily on remittances for their subsistence.

More worryingly still, data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics indicates that Bangladesh has more than 50 million workers in the informal sector. While there will be a significant impact on the livelihood of workers in the formal economy, there can be no doubt that the informal sector will be hit even harder (World Economic Forum/ April 13 of 2020).

Bangladesh Scenario of COVID 19: Health and Economics

If we look at the sector-wise resource distribution of operating and development budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, we would see the health sector has received merely 4.9% of the total allocation.

Due to poor investment in healthcare infrastructure nationwide and scarcity of medical equipment i.e. testing kits, and doctors to combat Covid-19, the government is passing a very hard time. Till now, the Bangladesh readymade garments (RMG) industry has received work order cancellations of nearly $3 billion. Around 2 million workers in the industries will be affected by this. Around 4 million people are directly engaged with the RMG sector e.g. backward linkage industries, accessories and packaging factories and transportation sector (The Business Standard, 15 April 2020).

Going by statistics relating to the number of infections, Bangladesh’s COVID-19 problem seems less serious, especially when one considers the size of its population (163 million) and the larger number of cases that other countries are grappling with.

But public health professionals say that the figures do not capture the reality on the ground as testing rates have been very low in Bangladesh. Indeed, as of April 18, Bangladesh was carrying out only 124 tests per million of its population, according to the Dhaka-based Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research. While this was increased to 240 tests per million on April 25, testing is still inadequate Noted Bangladeshi virologist Nazrul Islam has said that 10,000 people would need to be tested daily to get a more accurate picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the country.

Bangladesh’s capacity to test for coronavirus infection and to isolate and treat patients confirmed to have COVID-19 is restricted by its fragile public health infrastructure. The country has just 127,000 hospital beds, 91,000 of them in government-run hospitals. Besides, it has only 737 beds in intensive care units, with just 432 of these in the public health system. Most of the intensive care facilities are concentrated in Dhaka. “Overburdened” at the best of times, this infrastructure is in no position to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Noted Bangladeshi virologist Nazrul Islam has said that 10,000 people would need to be tested daily to get a more accurate picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the country.

Bangladesh’s capacity to test for coronavirus infection and to isolate and treat patients confirmed to have COVID-19 is restricted by its fragile public health infrastructure. The country has just 127,000 hospital beds, 91,000 of them in government-run hospitals. Besides, it has only 737 beds in intensive care units, with just 432 of these in the public health system. Most of the intensive care facilities are concentrated in Dhaka. “Overburdened” at the best of times, this infrastructure is in no position to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Recently, garment workers coming back to Dhaka amid the government-imposed shutdown and the risk of getting infected only revealed that due to disparity in wealth distribution these people are unable to stay at homes without work for their survival, thus, they are concerned much more about their job rather than Covid-19. 

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Chief Ms. Rubana Huq has stipulated that termination of RMG workers will begin from June.

Bangladesh is being forced to endure lockdowns to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. These lockdowns are having a crippling effect on workers and businesses across the country. The economy has almost come to a standstill.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have expressed apprehensions about the economic growth that may slide down to just over 2.0 per cent during the current fiscal year.

The poor, especially daily wage earners, are the worst sufferers. Around 34 million people, or 20.5 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) data.

An analysis by Dhaka-based South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) shows that this number would rise by 36 million if the income level for poverty line is raised by 1.25 per cent. These 36 million, not officially categorised as poor, can certainly be viewed as economically powerless. Many of them are likely to fall into poverty trap because of the pandemic.

The SANEM model indicates that a large segment (43 per cent) of this vulnerable population is engaged in crop-production, livestock-rearing and fish-cultivation. Other notable segments are industrial workers, including those employed in garment factories (16 per cent), retail businesses (11 per cent), transportation (10 per cent), and construction sector (7.0 per cent). (Economic ramifications of Covid-19 in Bangladesh by Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed, The Financial Express, May 7 of 2020).

Could we really implement “Social Distancing?”

Social distancing is anathema to Bangladeshi society and culture. Even if people want to follow the guidelines, as in other countries, social distancing is a privilege of the rich and middle class in Bangladesh.

Most Bangladeshis live in close proximity to each other. Families are large and live in small and cramped tenements, with several families sharing a single tap and toilet. This is even more pronounced in the refugee camps in Chittagong, where around a million Rohingya refugees live in crowded and temporary shelters and access to health and other facilities is even lower than in the rest of Bangladesh.

Importantly, many Bangladeshis, like rickshaw pullers, earn their living through jobs that require them to go out to work. For them, there is no work-from-home option. Consequently, convincing people to stay indoors or socially distant, even if it is to protect them from a deadly virus, is difficult (Sudha Ramchandran, The COVID-19 Catastrophe in Bangladesh, The Diplomat, April 29 of 2020).

On April 18, amid a nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, around 100,000 people gathered at the Rahmania Madrassa in Bertola village in Bangladesh to participate in the funeral of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a popular Islamic teacher. Only a month earlier, some 25,000 people congregated at Raipur in Lakshmipur district for a mass prayer, which they believed would protect them from being infected by the coronavirus. (Sudha Ramchandran, Ibid).

In Chilmarli of Rangpur district, Hindus performed BARUNI SNAN despite lockdown declaration.

Post COVID-19 Scenario: Will Translation Still Be Relevant?

Sushmita Biswas, my niece (cousin sister’s daughter), is a fresh university graduate from Khulna, a divisional city of Bangladesh in Computer science and she got her first job in a USA based ICT Company to “work from home” during this pandemic.

Yes, though IMF and World Economic Forum’s April report forecasted that the GDPs of all world economies are expecting to shrink by -3% and situation will be really a hell for people like rickshaw pullers and daily wage earners, English and ICT will remain two necessary tools to bring the world even more closer and enhance outsourcing jobs within middle and upper middle class, urban youth around the globe.

Adjusting to the Post-COVID-19 Economy with the Help of Translation

Although the IMF and World Economic Forum made grim predictions for the world’s economy in 2020 as mentioned earlier, they nonetheless forecasted that countries will rebound in 2021 with an average GDP growth rate of 5.8%.

Things like e-Commerce, developing multilingual websites and proping up multilingual customer support centers can be some essential tools to fight the recession during COVID-19 after this pandemic is over.

Free online translators and machine translation (MT) systems along with a vast bulk of human translators across the globe should be another fighting tool in the Post-COVID-19 economy (The World Financial Review (May 1 of 2020).

This article was presented by author in an International Webinar on June 12 by Kolkata Translation Forum (KTF) where writers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and different provinces of India like West Bengal, Assam and Orissa participated.

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নারী'তে প্রকাশিত প্রতিটি লেখার বিষয়বস্তু, ক্রিয়া-প্রতিক্রিয়া ও মন্তব্যসমুহ সম্পূর্ণ লেখকের নিজস্ব। প্রকাশিত সকল লেখার বিষয়বস্তু ও মতামত নারী'র সম্পাদকীয় নীতির সাথে সম্পুর্নভাবে মিলে যাবে এমন নয়। লেখকের কোনো লেখার বিষয়বস্তু বা বক্তব্যের যথার্থতার আইনগত বা অন্যকোনো দায় নারী কর্তৃপক্ষ বহন করতে বাধ্য নয়। নারীতে প্রকাশিত কোনো লেখা বিনা অনুমতিতে অন্য কোথাও প্রকাশ কপিরাইট আইনের লংঘন বলে গণ্য হবে।