Even if the picture of capital Dhaka’s poverty situation, depicted in a study of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) is labeled extremely worrying, it would be an understatement.
After 2,046 surveys, BIDS has said that 22.90 per cent of the Dhaka residents are poor and about 50 per cent of the total poor are new, which means they were above the poverty line before.
When non-governmental research organisations had shown through different surveys that the number of poor people has increased considerably, the government had denied this at the time.
Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal had also questioned the basis of those surveys. Now alarming images have been found also in the survey of government organisation.
According to the BIDS survey, before the Covid outbreak, that means in 2019, 33.60 per cent earnings of the poor households came from self-employment. It escalated to 38.56 per cent last year.
In 2019, 39.29 per cent of the poor households used to use MFS or mobile financial services. After Covid, that means in 2022, it soared up to 78.78 per cent. Prior to corona, 32.22 per cent families had bank accounts. Later, it rose to 33.79 per cent. There are both positive and negative sides to this.
While financial transactions have become easier with the use of MFS, the amount of service charges or fee that poor people have to pay in return is an additional burden on them. Charges need to be reduced further.
Planning minister MA Mannan has emphasised on equity based opportunities for mitigating disparity.
But the problem is, when a fistful of people snatch away almost all the facilities, then majority of the people have to suffer the blow of poverty.
Poverty cannot be eliminated by expanding the social safety net or by providing allowances. Resources and employment need to be increased for eradicating poverty. We hope the government will create that opportunity.
It came up in this same survey that people are buying less food, low-quality food or reducing the expenditure on education and healthcare. Many are spending their savings.
BIDS director general Binayak Sen has said that many children in Dhaka have dropped out of school during the Covid outbreak and that trend is higher among low-income families. Social safety net is lesser available in urban areas, so more attention has to be paid in this sector.
The way prices of daily commodities are rising in leaps and bounds, life has become difficult even for the lower and lower-middle class people, let alone the poor.
In this situation, there’s no alternative to increasing the income. But how will it increase?
Factories that had closed down due to corona, not all of them could be reopened. Not that many new industries are opening either.
The self-employment choices that have been mentioned in the survey are often taken as there is no alternative. People have to do at least something for surviving.
What needs to be considered is, whether its self-employment or employment, can the minimum basic needs be met with that or not. The answer to this will be 'no' in many cases.
Then, what’s the way out of the poverty situation. In addition to expanding the social security sphere, people have to be provided with such employment that he or they can meet their basic needs with it.
In this case, it’s better to take sustainable and effective steps instead of isolated and scattered initiatives.