• Wednesday, May 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 08:32 am

Covid-19 shutdown: Govt mulls food assistance for low income people

  • Published at 06:21 pm March 30th, 2020
File photo of rickshaws on Dhaka street Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Food aid will also be provided to farm labourers and other beneficiaries under city corporations, municipalities, union and ward levels

In the face of a visible lockdown across the country, the government has taken steps to launch a food assistance program for the low income group of people, who primarily depend on their daily income. 

The Bangladesh government has since March 26 been observing a 10-day shutdown, with people being asked to remain indoors. Against this backdrop low income people, including day laborers, have become hard pressed because of the shutdown, resulting in a halt in economic activities.

Tens of millions of people in the country have recently lost their scope of earning for the daily basic necessities of life amid the coronavirus crisis. 

With reductions in sources of earning, the number of people, including families with children, going hungry is rising at an alarming rate and represents a troubling development in one of the poorest countries of the world.

In an effort to address the situation, “the prime minister has directed the authorities to prepare lists of underprivileged people like beggars, day-laborers, rickshaw-van pullers, transport workers, restaurant workers, hawkers,  and tea-stall owners, who run their families on daily basis income, and provide them with food aid,” said a March 29 notice of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.

Food aid will also be provided to farm labourers and other beneficiaries under city corporations, municipalities, union and ward levels, reports UNB.

The ministry has also called on the affluent sections of society, aid groups, and NGOs interested in providing support, to carry out aid work in a coordinated manner with district and local administrations

Database in the offing

Meanwhile, district administrations across Bangladesh are working to prepare a database enrolling the details of people in distress of each district following the guidelines provided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam has instructed the divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners (DC) to complete the database within the shortest possible time.

During a videoconference with the DCs and divisional commissioners on Monday, the cabinet secretary also provided a format to the DCs for collecting data on the coronavirus situation across the country for a comprehensive assessment.  

As there is no work opportunity for the poor, low-income groups are the most vulnerable ones.

Many families do not have enough food to live on and are turning to sources of non-state charitable aid.

On March 29, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked officials to prepare a list of vulnerable people to be provided with government assistance, so that they could face up to the hardship and the tougher times ahead over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Deputy commissioners are working to prepare the database of day laborers. Hopefully it will be completed in a day or two,” said Mustafizur Rahman, Dhaka divisional commissioner.

Bailout package compared to other countries

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier announced a bailout of Tk5,000 crore for export-oriented industries, in an effort to tackle the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the country's economy.

Such funds can only be disbursed as salaries and wages for employees and workers of the industries.

However, no food assistance package was offered previously for the poor in Bangladesh.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said the Prime Minister's bailout package targeting workers of the export-oriented sectors and ultra-poor needed to be expanded equally to include the ultra-poor and disadvantaged sections of society, especially low-income groups like day labourers, farmers, rickshaw-pullers, domestic workers, small traders and the self-employed who have already or may soon become jobless. 

India on Thursday announced an economic stimulus package of $22.5 billion to help millions of low-income households handle the 21-day lockdown in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, at a press briefing, said the package would be disbursed through food security programs for poorer households and through direct cash transfers.

Along the same lines, the government of Pakistan on Tuesday announced a Rs144 billion relief package for around ten million people belonging to low-income groups to help them mitigate the adverse impact of the coronavirus on their family income.

Each individual will get Rs3000 for the next four months as a handout for the period.

The Pakistan Prime Minister also announced an outlay of Rs200 billion for daily wage earners. It is expected that the amount will be distributed through the provincial governments.

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