Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) (AFP)
More than 20 horses have starved to death in just a month at Bangladesh’s most popular resort, animal owners said on Sunday, as the country’s tourism industry recovers from the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The South Asian nation of 168 million people is grappling with a new wave of coronavirus infections that has stretched its healthcare system and triggered a nationwide lockdown.
The owners of the horses said they were struggling to secure fodder for their animals, which is used for tourist rides on Cox’s Bazar beach, one of the longest in the world.
“Once the coronavirus hit, the number of tourists (…) fell to a net,” Farida Begum, spokesperson for the Cox’s Bazar Horse Owners Association, told AFP.
“We are struggling to make ends meet. How can we feed the horses? “
Tourists had briefly returned to the district from December to February when infections slowed, but visits dried up under the new lockdown imposed from April 14.
At least 21 of the 90 horses used for beach tourists have died over the past month while others were emaciated, Begum said.
In last year’s lockdown, 41 horses – including eight from Begum – died, she added.
Some owners have freed their horses, hoping that they can survive by eating grass or foraging for food.
Horse owners say they have struggled to feed their own families, with many taking out loans from microlenders just to make ends meet.
“People from the micro-lender come to my house every week and harass me to repay the loan in installments. But unless tourists start arriving at Cox’s Bazar, I can’t refund the money, ”Begum said, adding that she had borrowed 100,000 taka ($ 1,200).
Dozens of horse handlers typically hired by owners to help tourists on rides have moved on to rickshaw driving or construction work.
– ‘No tourists, that means no income’ –
The seaside resort typically attracts over two million tourists, mostly domestic, each year.
But as part of the national lockdown, offices and markets are closed and public transport has been cut off.
Horse owner Sarwar Azam told AFP that one of his animals died last week and the other was also hungry.
The head of a local horse owners’ organization, Nishan Ahsan – whose four animals died in last year’s lockdown – said its members received limited government assistance.
“During the peak tourism period, a horse can earn up to 2,000 taka ($ 23) per day. We would set aside a slice of this income for horse feed, which is expensive, ”Ahsan told AFP.
“But no tourists means no income for us. “
Cox’s Bazar government administrator Sumaiya Akter said she has only heard of four to five horses that have died in the past eight months.
She added that the government had given owners 146 bags of envelopes and 20 cans of molasses since May 9.
Bangladesh has recorded nearly 800,000 coronavirus infections and more than 12,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but experts say the real numbers are likely much higher.
Just over six percent of the population received the first dose of the vaccine, while the government has said it has run out of vaccines as it tries to fight the latest devastating wave of the virus.
© 2021 AFP