As of Thursday, Bangladesh confirmed 7,667 coronavirus cases with the death toll rising to 168 after five new fatalities were reported
A report published by the "Disaster Response Monitoring Committee" has said that the government's allocation of aid, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is lowest to the poorest districts of the country.
The committee formed by the country’s eminent citizens disclosed the findings in their maiden press briefing online on Thursday.
Rakhal Raha, member secretary of the Disaster Response Monitoring Committee, read out the report.
During the event, members of the committee -- Prof Sayeed Ferdous, Supreme Court lawyer Hasnat Quaiyum, Qazi Zahed Iqbal, photojournalist Shahidul Alam, activist Hasib Uddin Hussain, and freedom fighter Nayeem Jahangir among others -- also discussed the inconsistency in the allocation of government relief and the information shared about district wise distribution.
Govt aid allocation not enough, not even
As of April 23, the government allocated only Tk3,881,500,264 crore (calculating Tk36 as the cost for 1kg rice) -- to buy 94,667 metric tons of rice, to give Tk394,100,264 as financial aid and have Tk7.94 crore for baby food – for the people living in the 64 districts, said the report.
According to the data provided by the report, the government, in its aid allocation (both financial and food), completely neglected the district wise poverty rate observed in the Population Census 2016 and deprived the districts that are under most distress.
For example, every resident of Narayanganj district, which has the country’s lowest poverty rate at 2.6%, were allocated 22.5kg of rice and Tk88.17 as government aid during the coronavirus outbreak.
Even those in Munshiganj district, which has the second-lowest poverty rate of the country at 3.1%, were allotted 21.51kg rice and Tk95.83 each as government relief.
Whereas, on the contrary, people of Kurigram district, which has the highest poverty rate of the country at 70.80%, were allotted only 0.87kg of rice and Tk3.85 per head.
Similarly, those who live in Dinajpur district, which has a 64.30% poverty rate, were designated only 0.65kg of rice and Tk3 as government support.
Commenting on the discrepancy, coordinator for the committee, Barrister Jotirmoy Barua, said, “We felt the necessity to form this committee to talk about citizen’s rights and help the general people of the country amid this coronavirus outbreak. The committee will continue its work until the pandemic ends.
“We have seen the common people, not the government, successfully coming forward to help each other in this time of crisis. There will be a serious humanitarian catastrophe if we cannot ensure the proper distribution of relief.”
“The government has to provide necessary treatment and food assistance to the doorsteps of those who are stuck in their homes due to the shutdown.
“However, we have seen instances of serious corruption, irregularities and discrimination in the aid process all over the news. Even the journalists, covering such incidents, are being attacked, and sued for honestly performing their duties,” he added.
Jotirmoy said: “We have heard one of the minister saying that there is no lack of aid, while another is saying that it is not possible for the government to provide relief to every household.
“So people are now confused. The initiatives taken by the government could’ve been conducted in a more coordinated way.”
Echoing the same, Rakhal Raha, said: “Only talking about the wrongs that the government has done to handle the situation is not the mandate of this committee.
“We want to work collectively to avoid any kind of humanitarian disaster forced by the coronavirus.”
Prof Nasir Ahmed said: “It is necessary to free the aid distribution process from the influence of political leaders. The government should engage the district commissioners (DC) instead of political leaders for this purpose.”
The committee also made a five-point recommendation to the government to better implement its relief and aid efforts.
Government denies allegations
Contacted, Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said: “The report published by this committee is not showing the true picture as we always allocate more budget to Kurigram than other districts.
“As of Thursday [April 30], Kurigram districts has at least 900 metric tons of rice as relief in reserve.”
“If you look at Narayanganj, Dhaka and Gazipur – the three major hotspots of Covid-19 outbreak – there are people of all professions living there temporarily. These are floating workers. We took this factor into consideration during our aid allocation as this huge population is now work-less due to the shutdown.
“But other districts like Kurigram don’t have such a number of floating workers,” he added.
He said: “We always allocate our aid budget considering the poverty rate by giving the highest priority for eight districts which are Jamalpur, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Joypurhat, and Thakurgaon.”
When asked about the NID issue for collecting relief, the senior secretary said: “NIDs are not mandatory for citizens for getting government aid.”
As of Thursday, Bangladesh confirmed 7,667 coronavirus cases with the death toll rising to 168 after five new fatalities were reported.
The fast spreading Covid-19 has so far killed 228,000 people in more than 200 countries and territories.