Experts at a virtual dialogue have discussed ways to convert the current challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic into opportunities through proper recovery measures, keeping Bangladesh on the right track of development.
They said Bangladesh must pursue this track as it's a silver lining amid this "truly global catastrophe".
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cosmos Group, organised the webinar as part of its "Cosmos Dialogue" series. Titled "Impact of Covid-19 on Bangladesh: Prognosis for Recovery" the webinar was held on Friday night, connecting experts from home and abroad virtually.
The programme was chaired by former caretaker government adviser Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, the Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Cosmos Foundation Chairperson Enayetullah Khan delivered the welcome speech.
Speakers of the webinar included prominent economist and Chairman of Policy Research Institute Dr Zaidi Sattar, Prof Haider Khan, founder and Chairman of Summit Power International Limited and Summit Holdings Ltd. Muhammed Aziz Khan, former caretaker government adviser Rasheda K Choudhury, and BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq. Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan delivered the concluding remarks.
Stating that the recovery will be there gradually, Dr Iftekhar laid emphasis on converting the challenges to opportunities through joint efforts.
Dr Zaidi Sattar highlighted the impact on the Bangladesh economy as an economy that is well-integrated globally.
The economist said there will be need for more fiscal resources and cash transfers as many people will need them.
Zaidi Sattar laid emphasis on export diversification, more investment and ensuring balanced incentives for the relevant sectors.
Dr Rubana said it was almost like a nightmare for the RMG secor when they saw export orders worth over US$ 3.15 billion being cancelled or held up.
Responding to a question, she said the industry has negotiated almost 48 percent of the cancelled orders to be reinstated but the payment terms are still vague.
Enayetullah Khan said they see a simultaneous disruption both in supply and demand chains.
The world, in the post-COVID-19 era, will be a different one and the recovery will come in different ways.
Aziz Khan said there will be huge opportunities for Bangladesh in the post-Covid-19 scenario that the country needs to utilise.
The prominent entrepreneur said there is shortage both in global demand and supply, and this will encourage other countries to supply to Bangladesh and also take goods from the country.
"Bangladesh will be in a much stronger position to negotiate with the importers of garments which is a basic goods," he added. "We will have the possibility to have better contracts."
Describing different infrastructural development projects in the country, Aziz Khan said Bangladesh now generates 20,000 MW of electricity, while Padma Bridge and three ports are coming up, which will connect the country with the rest of the world.
He said Bangladeshand's largest import is energy and its cost will be halved in the post-COVID-19 era. "This means if we have to spend $4 billion now, we will need only $2 billion in the post-Covid era. So, I see the biggest opportunity in this regard," he added.
Prof Haider Khan said Bangladesh needs to keep friendly relationship both in rhetoric and in practice with its neighbouring countries.
But Bangladesh also needs to practise time-honoured and strategic good relationship on the move which is called "balancing". Bangladesh needs to maintain good relationship with balancing powers such as the US and the EU, but also China as an emerging power, he said
Renowned educationist and social activist Rasheda K Chowdhury signaled five major consequences for the education sector, including large scale dropouts, amid disruption of educational activities due to the pandemic. She also sought a comprehensive recovery plan for the education sector, one that involves teachers.
Apart from the possibility of large scale dropouts, she also mentioned a possible concurrent increase in child labour, or early marriage for girls which will consequently increase early pregnancy and increase malnutrition.
She noted that the government has been trying four methods to reduce learning loss after the closure of educational institutes during the pandemic --- televised lessons, online courses, radio broadcast, and delivering education through mobile devices.
However, she said, "We have not been able to reach out to large number of vulnerable student groups, including women and ethnic minorities."
The CAMPE Director said girls will also be hit hard as gender-based rises across households.
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