Effects of pandemic lockdown and struggle of the beggars
Kabir Ahmed Miazi, 65, was begging at Jatrabari area of the city amid the lockdown. He earned Tk80 from morning to afternoon on Friday. Earlier, he used to earn Tk300-500 on a normal day there. But the coronavirus hit his income hard as people didn’t go out due to the pandemic.
Not only beggars but also cobblers, hawkers, home servants and day labourers are being affected vastly owing to lockdown in the country.
Bangladesh government announced a lockdown from April 5-11 and extended it by one week up to April 20 due to increased COVID-19 infected cases in the country. Earlier, after the first coronavirus patient detection here on March 8, all education institutions were declared shut from March 17, 2020 in Bangladesh. The country went on general holiday from March 26 to May 30. However, the education institutions will be reopened on May 23, 2021.
“I came to Dhaka from Chandpur in 2003. We lost all properties due to river erosion then. After coming into the city, I used to pull a rickshaw. But I am forced to beg after a sudden disease. I have been begging several years to survive with my family,” he added.
Kabir said the coronavirus hit his income hard as people don’t go out following the pandemic. “I have to take medicine regularly but I can’t purchase it properly due to financial crisis. I earned Tk300-Tk500 on a normal day but now I earn less than Tk100 following the Coronavirus,” he also added.
He shared that the government had provided relief for the poor last year but he could not get that. “People don’t give alms like prior to COVID-19 as their income came down. Lockdown has created an extra pressure for poor. We tense all times how we eat to survive if the lockdown continues. Besides, it costs Tk1500 as house rent in the Kajla area. Even the prices of daily essential prices are high,” he also said.
The sufferings of the beggars and poor people during pandemic lockdown
Kabir urged the government to take care of them specially to provide relief and cash properly during the lockdown period.
Kanai Kanti, a cobbler at Sarulia bazaar told UNB his income came down 70 percent during lockdown.
Rabia Begum, a home servant at Bangshal said her husband is a hawker. They also experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. “We came from Bogra in Dhaka several years ago. I noticed my husband can’t bear my family's costs. So, I started to work as a servant in student’s messes. Unfortunately, I lost the job due to shut education institutions. Now we are passing difficult times due to lockdown,” she added.
According to the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh’s national poverty rate went up to 35 percent in 2020 from 24.3 percent in 2016 due to the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The upper poverty rate in Bangladesh went up to 42 percent in December 2020 from 21.6 percent in 2018 for Covid-19. And lower or extreme poverty rate also increased in the meantime from 9.4 percent in 2018 to 28.5 percent in 2020,” a household survey of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) said.
The survey data showed that following the start of the pandemic in late March 2020, average per-capita spending in extreme poor households came down by 45 percent in 2020. Such expenditure in non-poor and non-vulnerable families went up 6.0 percent.
East West University’s economics teacher Estiaque Bari said they collected information through face-to-face survey of about 1,600 households across Bangladesh in February this year.
“A total of 80.6 percent households cut down food expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Some 47.2 percent households reduced the number of protein items and 37.7 percent decreased the number of items in meals,” he added.
The survey said a total 78.8 percent households experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. Of them, 75.0 percent in Char , 71.0pc in Haor, 86.0 in Coastal , 87.3 in Slum, 67.0pc in Dalit, 67.7 in Indigenous, 88.1 in PWD, 76.0 in Female HHH, 63.4 in Migrant and 93.2 in MSME.
Bari added the marginalised and vulnerable citizens of the country are facing greater challenges to safeguard their lives and livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Average declined in monthly savings of households is 64.6 percent due to the pandemic. At least one member lost job/had to shut-down business in 70.3 percent households and 68.2 percent rejoined work later,” the data showed.
According to the survey, 47.9 percent households took loans to tackle COVID19 crisis from different sources. Of them, 56 percent loans were received from NGOs, 24.2 percent from money lenders and 3.4 percent from banks.
He said the government should fully utilise the policy instruments at its disposal to support the distressed marginalised groups such as cash transfer, food assistance, credit with easy terms, targeted public works programme.
“Explicit fiscal allocation (under social safety net programmes and beyond) has to be done in the upcoming national budget. Fiscal incentives for corporate and private donations for a Social Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 (based on public-private partnership and with real time digital reporting) may be considered,” Bari also added.
The convener of Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh and also distinguished fellow of CPD Debapriya Bhattacharya said the government distributed incentives and relief during the pandemic period last year but that was insufficient. Even, there was mismatching in distribution level too.
“A ‘Social Relief Fund’ can be set up for the backward people. A mid-term national plan involving local government, local administration, and NGOs strongly can help to cure the situation. However, transparency is very significant here,” the economist also said.