Poor people trying to survive on loans, cattle sale

Cattle grazes on a char in Debdanga area of Sariakandi upazila in Bogura district on 6 April 2022.
Soyel Rana

Mariyam Begum, 72, and her daughter Bono Begum, 52, are from a remote village of Kurigram. Both the mother and the daughter are agricultural workers and earn Tk 200-250 a day. They also receive an old age allowance of Tk 500 a month. Since they have got no workover the past couple of months, they depend on the monthly old-age allowance. They now have meals twice a day instead of three times.

Employees of the international development agency Care Bangladesh met Mariyam Begum as part of a survey in February. Mariyam Begum told the development workers that day they had nothing to eat expert a piece of bread and a banana and they did not know when they would eat next. It is better be dead than survivie like this, Mariyam Begum said.

Like Mariyam Begum, most of the poor are going through a similar situation in rural areaa of the country. In February, Care Bangladesh conducted a survey on the impact of rise in prices of goods on the poor in eight districts in the northern and haor regions of the country from June 2022 to February 2023.

According to the findings of the survey, 82.2 per cent of people could not buy the essential food and the figure rose by 2 per cent during these eight months while the number of people struggling to manage non-food expenses increased to 72 per cent from 61 per cent.

Economist and chairperson of the non-government organisation BRAC, Hossain Zillur Rahman, told Prothom Alo the multidimensional impact of rise in food prices has become visible slowly and if it continues, the state of malnutrition, health, education and other aspects among the poor will deteriorate, which will hamper the overall development in the long run.

There is sufficient rice stock at the government warehouses, Hossain Zillur Rahman said, adding the government should start providing other food products along rice for the poor and increased cash assistance in various services including health and education.

According to the survey, the poor face the worst state in health and education sectors. In June last year, 16.1 per cent of the people could not manage the treatment expense because of financial hardship and the percentage rose by four-folds to 50 per cent in February this year. The number of people, which cent could not afford to buy nutritious foods, increased to 53 per cent in February this year from 12 per cent in June 2022 while the number of people, who could not manage education expenses, increased to 52.7 per cent in this February from 11.4 per cent in June 2022.

The survey found that poor people followed eight negative means, including downgrade in food quality, to cope up with the situation. Thirty-five per cent people reduced the amount of food purdahs in June last year and the figure more than doubled to 77 per cent in February this year while the number of purchasing foods on credit increased to 41 per cent from 18 per cent during this period. Besides, the number of people not receiving treatment due to sudden illness rose to 31.6 per cent from 1.4 per cent.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, food minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said the government is providing the poor with adequate food. Ten 10 million people are also receiving food aid on the occasion of the Ramadan under various programmes including free rice. There is no crisis of food in the country despite the rise in food prices, he added.

As income drops amid rising cost, according to the survey, people sold cattle, receive microcredit from NGOs and borrowed alarmingly from moneylenders. The number of people selling cattle increased to 29.3 per cent in February 2023 from 4.6 per cent in June 2022 while the number of people receiving microcredit rose to 28.2 per from 2.1 per cent during this period.

Usually people don’t borrow from moneylenders at high interest rates, but this figure increased to 20.4 per cent in February this year from 0.4 per cent in June 2022.

People has increasingly receiving service from the government agencies as the number of people purchasing food from the state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) rose to 20.4 per cent in February this year from 1.5 per cent in June 2022.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna