Dhaka Courier

COVID-19: What option do you have when you are hungry?

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Photo: UNB

For many like Abul Kalam, a rickshaw-puller in the capital city for over three decades, Dhaka is now a ghostlike place as it has fallen silent amid the coronavirus scare.

Kalam, 67, says he has never seen Dhaka so desolate.

UN Secretary General António Guterres says the current coronavirus outbreak is the biggest challenge for the world since World War Two and could bring a recession.

"Suddenly I'm in big trouble. It's a good decision that we all must stay at home to protect ourselves. But what option do you have if you're hungry," Kalam, father of three daughters and one son, told Dhaka Courier regretting that he had to violate the government's instruction of staying at home.

Thousands of rickshaw-pullers live Dhaka and surrounding areas but the majority of them left the capital after the government announced a general holiday from March 26.

"I think most of the rickshaw-pullers left for their respective villages," said Kalam hailing from Zinjira, Keraniganj.

Asked about his daily income now, he said, “It's about Tk 100 to Tk 150, not more than that -- down from Tk 600. "Income has drastically come down putting me in trouble."

The government has already taken an initiative to provide food assistance to those who live hand to mouth.

Beggars, day-labourers, rickshaw-pullers, van-pullers, transport workers, restaurants workers and small roadside tea stall owners across the country have been brought under the essential food supply facilities.

Asked whether he availed of free food support from any source, Kalam said, "I rushed to Dhanmodi 8. But food distribution got over for the day before that. I didn't wait but looked for a passenger."

The rickshaw-puller tried to console himself saying, "All are not equally lucky to have such free food support. May be there was nothing for me for the day."

Kalam looked up in the sky and kept taking forward the human-powered-transport passing Central Hospital as his destination is Malibagh.

"For the first time I got a long-distance passenger with Tk 80 in the last one week. Passengers are offering less citing traffic-free roads. And most of the trips are short," he said.

When the rickshaw-puller, carrying this Correspondent as his passenger, crossed Elephant Road, he pointed at a small group of young people who were smoking at that time.

"Look at them. They came out from home for no reason. While people like me had to come out to feed family. These people must stay home," said the rickshaw-puller who looks well aware about the situation.

Kalam faced barriers from numerous points in the city from on duty police officials who are encouraging people to stay at home instead of roaming around in the city without any emergency.

"They (police) are doing a very good job. It's their duty. We all need to help each other. I’ll go back home once I get enough income to survive for the day," he said.

The general holiday announced by the government slow the transmission of COVID-19 has been extended and is likely to be extended further.

Kalam is little bothered about the extension and said, "It is important to save people of our country. I pray for the people of the whole world."

After reaching Malibagh rail gate, Kalam gave a big smile and confidently said, "This coronavirus won’t be able to harm us. We’re so blessed."

From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in all areas, including areas with hot and humid weather, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19.

"The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose," WHO said.

As of April 15, the number of deaths due to coronavirus in Bangladesh stood 50. So far, there are 1,231 coronavirus cases in the country, according to Health Minister Zahid Maleque.

The first case of Covid-19 in Bangladesh was detected on March 8, 2020.

The national response is being headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself in close conjunction with relevant public health agencies like the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Directorate General Health Services (DGHS) and the IEDCR. Bangladesh is also working closely with the various international organisations in Bangladesh, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). Committees have been formed at city-corporation, municipality, district, upazila and union levels for coronavirus prevention.

Stimulus Package

On April 5, the Prime Minister announced a Tk 72,500 crore (approximately US$ 8.57 billion) stimulus package for the Bangladesh economy. The package consists of four main features: 1) Increasing public expenditure; 2) Introducing fiscal packages; 3) Expanding social security programmes; 4) Increasing money supply.

Help for Low Income Groups

Urgent food support in cities and villages have been ordered through district administration for low income groups and day labourers. Food and cash support is being provided for low income groups for up to 6 months under ‘Ghora Fera Prokolpo’ whereby urban low income groups are provided for in their native districts. For immediate humanitarian assistance, the government has allocated 8,450 metric tonnes of rice and Tk 2 crore 35 lakhs cash handouts which are being distributed to the the low income groups across the country via local administration and local government representatives.

Additionally, the government is operating the ‘Rice for TK 10 per KG’ programme in the cities, divisions and district levels. For instance, in Dhaka alone, this scheme would benefit 39,180 families living in 73 slums in the city. Accommodation and livelihood have been arranged for 100,000 low income persons at the custom built Bhashan Char Project. The government is operating a telephone helpline for people needing urgent food support.

CPD Proposals

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has proposed providing with Tk. 8,000 per month for two months to each household of 1.9 crore households, close to the lower poverty line as COVID-19 pandemic put the poor people in trouble.

The civil society think tank has proposed Tk 30,000 crore direct cash transfer for 1.9 crore households as financial support.

This will be about 1 per cent of the GDP, said the CPD mentioning that this can be done by providing with Tk. 8,000 per month for two months to each household, close to the lower poverty line, for a family of four members in today’s current prices.

The vulnerable groups and marginalised communities are relatively more exposed to the threat of COVID-19 pandemic, CPD said.

Many of them do not get any social protection benefits, it said.

Daily wage earners and workers of informal sectors are critically suffering from the economic slowdown, CPD said adding that in this context it is necessary to bring in a comprehensive stimulus package, particularly for vulnerable households.

Besides, for a transparent implementation of the incentive programmes the list of beneficiaries should be disclosed though government websites which can be facilitated by Access to Information (A2I), the CPD paper emphasised.

Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD noted that ensuring transparency is a must for effectiveness of the incentive programmes announced so far.

She urged the government to come up with concrete allocation for the vulnerable groups so that they can survive during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • COVID-19: What option do you have when you are hungry?
  • Vol 36
  • AKM Moinuddin
  • Issue 41
  • DhakaCourier

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