The coronavirus pandemic has not hit Bangladesh that hard yet, compared to the other countries. This is relieving for the government as well as the people. The level of spread is still low. We want to believe that the government’s social distancing policy as well as the identification of the infected ones and isolation of their contacts will be successful.
But it is concerning how the poor are being affected. It’s also a matter of concern how the government will tackle the long-term economic impact. It’s hard to predict where the finance minister’s curtail programmes are heading to. The government had proclaimed a 10-day leave from 26 March to 4 April, which later has been extended till 9 April.
Lockdown or social distancing is the only effective initiative to contain the coronavirus. Almost all the countries of the world have adopted this policy. Those whom this has affected most include the day labourers, rickshaw van pullers, transport workers, small shop owners, restaurant workers, housemaids, hawkers, vendors and so on. The number of such people in Bangladesh is over 20 million.
The government has announced a Tk 50 billion fund for export-oriented industries, but the informal sectors or small and medium industries would not benefit from this. Some 86 per cent workers of the country work in informal sectors. Within a week of social distancing, life has become hard for the poor and the jobless due to lack of income. Though the government has been saying that food will be served from house to house under the social safety net programme, it is unclear how far this is being implemented.
Usually the poor and needy would approach the administration and members of the parliament for assistance, but there are no such scopes now. The government has advised them to stay home for security. In this backdrop, reports on their food crisis popping up in the media are very concerning. ‘Locked down’ people have also informed via phone that they were suffering from food crises. Following this, the administration had provided them food.
But food cannot be supplied to the huge number of destitute by such uncoordinated and sporadic measures. How will the social safety net work when news appears on the safety net’s rice being grabbed in Satkhira and Madaripur? Those who are assigned to distribute the rice are busy serving their own interests. This requires a permanent solution.
Earlier, the administration and the MPs would condemn each other whenever such programmes would fail. But this is no time for blame game. Food and other essentials must reach the poor. It’s not enough to have a lot of stocks in the government depots. It’s crucial to supply those food to the people. Or else, there remains fear of a humanitarian crisis.