As Bangladesh prepares for lockdown, everyone fears how our health system capacity will be able to cope when the worst unfolds. However, we do not know yet which one to worry about more, the health crisis or the unemployment crisis as a result.
Loss of income is not only foreseen for the poor in formal employment such as the garments sector, but also for those in the informal sector such as day laborers, domestic workers, transport workers as well as for families dependent upon uncertainties of remittance.
On the other hand, the lower middle class and the middle class also face a bleak future in times of this economic crisis as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Coping with a national crisis of this large extent, depends upon a multitude of players, government, civil society and private actors acting together to do their part in unison.
First things first
To help people cope with the initial income loss shock, government needs to mobilize through its local government all the way at the ward level, to stock take on who to reach out to and provide food security in times of this lockdown crisis. This could be perhaps facilitated through food ration cards that they can cash in on at enlisted ward-designated groceries.
On the other hand, to sustain social distance measures, those already on cash transfer programmes by government and non-government organizations alike, should be enrolled into bkash or mobile banking programmes on an urgent basis.
For the overall general population, government on the other hand urgently also needs to cut on VAT and where applicable import taxes on food commodities and hygiene products, while at the same time cracking down on price hikes by middle-man through mobile courts.
Civil society and private sector actors are currently also doing their citizen's part coming forward to help the poor in this time of looming national humanitarian crisis. A measure, private individuals or corporations can donate through, in both small or large amounts.
There has been a massive urban to rural migration due to the COVID 19 crisis. So people need to find alternate livelihood channels in their rural communities when their urban economies may not be prepared to absorb them back. However, they can be absorbed through micro-finance i.e. agricultural loans, home-based detergent and soap making small businesses and informal sector-based or small entrepreneurs' loan to help them serve their communities in need through agricultural and hygiene produce and delivery. These supplies may also help keep the prices of these products stable nationally.
For families in lower-middle income and middle-income status, economically distressed due to COVID 19, utilizing on their education backgrounds, micro-finance can be facilitated to help them utilize their agricultural land at home, open online and / or social media based businesses, etc. especially for sales of essential commodities, linking them with village networks of producers of enlisted non-government organizations as needed.
What Lies Ahead?
While we might be able to transform Bangladesh into an optimistic outlook if we put all our brains together, it is important that one stays aware of the wise words from Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen's research, that famines do not occur due to lack of food only, but can also occur due to unequal distribution channels and corruption as well.
The PM has said that April will see a rapid escalation of numbers of the infected and resultant deaths but suffering will not be limited to the virus victims only. The economically vulnerable will also be victims of the epidemic even if they don't catch the disease, and need to be cared for with an emergency plan.
Mehzabin Ahmed, Development Professional, Bangladesh
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