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Financial hardships resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic forced 80.6 per cent of households to cut down food expenses, a survey has found, reports UNB.

The Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh unveiled the findings of 'Marginalised Communities in Bangladesh Dealing with Pandemic Fallouts Findings from a Household Survey' in a webinar on Thursday.

Some 47.2 per cent of households reduced the number of protein items and 37.7 per cent cut down the number of items in meals, the survey found.

It found 78.8 per cent households experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Of them, 75 per cent are in char, 71 per cent in haor, 86 per cent in coastal, 87.3 per cent in slum, 67 per cent in dalit, 67.7 per cent in indigenous, 88.1 per cent in PWD, 76 per cent in Female HHH, 63.4 per cent in migrant and 93.2 per cent in MSME.

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The study conducted by the platform is based on information collected through face-to-face survey of about 1,600 households across Bangladesh. It was conducted in February 2021 and covered 10 marginalised groups, including households from char, haor and coastal areas, slum, dalit, indigenous, persons with disabilities, migrant, micro, small and medium enterprises.

'Debt trap awaits'

The marginalised and vulnerable citizens of the country are facing greater challenges to safeguard their lives and livelihood during the pandemic, the survey found.

Average decline in monthly savings of households is 64.6 per cent. At least one member lost job or had to shut down business in 70.3 per cent households and 68.2 per cent rejoined works later, the data showed.

Besides, 47.9 per cent households took loans to tackle Covid-19 crisis from different sources. Of them, 56 per cent of loans were received from NGOs, 24.2 per cent of loans from money lenders and 3.4 per cent of loans from banks, according to the survey.

The platform's convener and also distinguished fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Debapriya Bhattacharya said all marginalised groups are yet to fully recover from the fall in income and expenditure.

"The government distributed incentives and relief during the pandemic period last year [but] those were insufficient. There was even mismatching at distribution level," he said.

He said a large number of households are likely to fall in debt trap and lose their savings.

Magrinalised groups need support

CPD distinguished fellow professor Mustafizur Rahman said the new surge in Covid-19 and subsequent restrictions are likely to pose new challenges for recovery of the marginalised groups.

"These groups will need support to meet their recurrent expenditures, loan repayment and business restart investment. There's a need for medium-term (at least three years) public policy support to the marginalised groups," he added.

Mustafizur said experiences and lessons of last one year should guide the design and implementation of future public support programmes for the pandemic affected marginalised groups.

Utilising policy instruments

The survey recommended the government to fully utilise the policy instruments at its disposal to support the distressed marginalised groups through cash transfer, food assistance, credit with easy terms, and targeted public works programme, among others.

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Economic package needs to be coupled with health-related and social cohesion promoting interventions. The government needs partnership of the NGOs/CBOs in tracing and delivering support inputs to the LNOBs and PNOBs. Putting together an integrated serviceable database is an urgent need. It suggested explicit fiscal allocation (under social safety net programmes and beyond) in the upcoming national budget. It saidfiscal 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. The lead researcher of the survey Towfiqul Islam Khan and senior analyst Estiaque Bari, among others, took part in the webinar.

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