Speakers at a webinar on Thursday underscored the need for developing an integrated and updated database for effective distribution of relief among the poor badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

They said there is a lack of disaggregated national-level database which is required for effective distribution of various government supports provided to the poor and the vulnerable people.

These observations emerged at a virtual national dialogue titled "Relief Supports to Cope with COVID-19: How Effective Were They?" held virtually.

The dialogue was organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Oxfam in Bangladesh in association with Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh.

In a keynote presentation, Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, CPD mentioned that higher allocation, both in terms of coverage and the amount of support provided to the affected population, is necessary in any emergency situation such as the current pandemic.

Higher unemployment, income erosion, switching to new jobs with lower pay and new dimensions of vulnerability such as emergence of 'new poor' during COVID type emergencies, should guide both targeting and allocation.

He further stated that, a massive awareness campaign about the relief support hotlines should be launched at the earliest.

"Adequate preparations should be there to avoid delays in delivering transfers/benefits," he said.

Dr Md. Enamur Rahman, State Minister of Disaster Management and Relief, speaking as chief guest, said relief supports are being distributed and there are no complaints of people suffering from hunger.

He also stated that more emphasis will be given on making the relief distribution process more transparent.

Speaking as the Special Guest, A B Tajul Islam, Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief commented that both service providers and recipients need to take a moral high ground so that it becomes possible to distribute the relief supports to the most deserving.

Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary, MP, Member, Standing Committee on Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs recommended that the relief distribution should be based on the poverty scenario of each district.

Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, Access to Information (A2I) Programme and Tanvir A Mishuk, Managing Director, Nagad delivered special comments at the dialogue.

Chowdhury highlighted the need for innovative ways to create awareness among the mass people about the relief programmes. Mishuk stated that use of technology to distribute the cash relief, has helped to ensure better transparency.

Dr M Abu Eusuf, Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka re-emphasised on the importance of a national household database and recommended for higher focus and coordination in this regards.

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Team Leader of the Project, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Convenor, Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh chaired the session.

He pointed out that there is a lack of government and private initiatives to tackle the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"To distribute the relief to the ones actually in need, mass awareness and transparency is a must," he said.

Dr Bhattacharya also stated that community-based organisations (CBOs), NGOs, media should work together with the government agencies to ensure transparency, accountability and monitoring in relief distribution.

Tanvir A Mishuk, managing director and co-founder of Nagad, the second largest mobile financial services and a financial service arm of Bangladesh Post Office said it seems that the government has shown considerable prudence for distributing the cash as relief assistance during the pandemic.

"With the decision being made in a very short time, the process has become transparent due to the involvement of MFS operators and no one has to go anywhere to get help, not even a penny of rickshaw fare has been spent."

"We used to see the news of the theft of relief rice or other materials published on the newspapers. But this time there was no news of theft," he said.

Echoing with Mishuk, Anir Chowdhury, policy advisor at Access to Information (A2I), said, "We have very important data in different companies and organizations. But there is no legal framework for using them yet. Work is underway to make them."

Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD, and Dr Dipankar Datta, Country Director, Oxfam in Bangladesh shared their views at the dialogue.

This study focuses on three such major support programmes. These are: cash support of BDT 2,500 each to 5 million households, food (rice) distribution and cash support under Gratuitous Relief (GR).

Shirina Khanom, Sorwar Alam Mukul, Md. Shohidul Islam, Md. Sujaul Islam Suja, Most. Jahanara Begum, Mr Rakibul Hasan, Elias Kamal Babu, Hasanur Rahman Jhantu, Alamgir Kabir Mannu, Md. Sirajul Islam and Ms Amena Begam spoke on behalf of the CBOs of 13 districts.

They shared their experiences from the grassroots and stated that the beneficiary listing process is not always transparent and the relief supports must reach the people in need.

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