Winter usually arrives early in the northern and western parts of Bangladesh.
Abdul Latif, a resident of Palashpara village in Panchagarh¬ – the northern-most district of Bangladesh, started feeling the chill since the very beginning of November this year.
The last couple of days were worse than ever, due to a drastic fall in temperature.
Latif, a rice-miller in Tetulia upazila of the district shared his grueling experience, "I haven't felt such a chilling winter in the last seven years. Our days roll on without a single ray of sunshine. Leaving bed in the morning becomes tougher. Dense fog disrupts everyday chores."
On December 29 at 9am, temperature of Panchagarh district dropped to 4.5 degrees Celsius, the lowest recorded so far across the country this season. The district has been observing record lowest temperature for the last consecutive days.
Last year on January 8, the temperature of Tetulia was 2.6 degrees Celsius, the lowest ever recorded temperature in Bangladesh's history.
Extreme cold temperature has a devastating effect on crop cultivation. Latif told The Business Standard over phone, "Potato plants are dying. The seedbeds of Boro crop have dried out."
This weather prompts a lot of plant death and ill health. Agriculture officials define the situation as cold injury.
Nazrul Islam Mondol, a peanut farmer of Jatrapur union under Kurigram sadar upazila, is also facing a number of cold-related problems. Dense fog, particularly in the early morning, is disrupting his work in the peanut field.
Nazrul's two-year-old niece Sanzana has recently fallen ill with a cold and accompanying fever. His 80-year-old aunt Samartha Begum – suffering from age related complications – said she never expected to face such intense winter at this point in her life.
"Senior citizens and children are the most affected. Due to shortage of firewood, poor people such as us cannot keep warm in the evening when temperature falls drastically," Nazrul said over phone.
Latif and Nazrul, told the correspondent on separate occasions that poor people of their localities have yet to receive warm clothes as relief.
When he was informed of the predicted cold waves in the coming months, Latif exclaimed, "How could we survive the cold waves?"
On December 8, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) issued a three-month outlook, predicting a series of cold waves that would hit the north, west and middle parts of the country.
One or two moderate and medium (08-10 degrees Celsius) cold waves is predicted to hit in December, two or three moderate and medium (06-08 degrees Celsius) cold waves including two extreme cold waves (04-06 degrees Celsius) in January and one moderate and medium (06-08 degrees Celsius) cold wave in February.
Dr Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik, meteorologist at the BMD, said, "People's feeling of coldness depends upon many factors.
"The factors are - high pressure of sub-continental breeze that extends over the place, minimal difference of temperature between day and night, duration of night being longer than daytime, downward divergence of air from higher up in the atmosphere, long duration of fog and 10 kilometres per hour wind speed."
He added that the present situation in Bangladesh is favourable for the every mentioned factor.
Md Habibullah Bahar, deputy director (relief) of Department of Disaster Management said that till December 26, at least 2,894,192 blankets were distributed to winter-prone districts.
Last year, the amount of winter relief was 18 lakh blankets. "The amount of relief has been increased this year. But the demand would also be greater. We have stocks for the emergency situation," he said.
Cold affecting health
The government has identified 296 upazilas where people were most affected by cold-related diseases this season. From November 1 till December 29, at least 123,465 people afflicted with acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea were admitted to government hospitals across the country.
According to the Health Emergency Operation Centre and Control Room data, among the admitted patients, 21 have succumbed to death till the filing of this report.
Directorate General of Health Service's assistant director (control room), Dr Ayesha Akther said that the DGHS has been circulated cautionary messages to raise awareness against cold-related diseases.
"People affected by winter - particularly the children and old-aged - are requested not to go outdoors during morning and after nightfall unless it is absolutely necessary," she said, adding that maintaining personal hygiene is a must.
"Date juice is not a healthy drink. So children and senior citizens should avoid it. Using masks will help avoid dust allergy. In case children show symptoms of respiratory issues, parents are requested to bring the kids to the nearest health complex as soon as possible," she added.
Dense fog hampers road, rail and air traffic for days and vessels on waterways, causing immense sufferings to travellers.
Privately-run Sundarban Courier Service officials stated that extreme weather is delaying their shipments.
Ferry services over the Padma River on Paturia-Daulatdia route have already been suspended multiple times this year, prompting authorities to prioritise transporting buses during limited hours of ferry operation.
Md Shafiqul Islam, director (port and traffic) of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, said that dense fog covers the surface of rivers and disrupts vessels' movement in waterways, particularly in wide rivers such as the Meghna.
He further said that the shipping ministry has asked the River Police and Coast Guard authorities to strictly prohibit the movement of vessels such as sand-laden cargo boats and motor-driven small boats during night-time.
In 2007, the Department of Shipping imposed a ban on movement of sand-laden carriers during night.