Last year, the government had planned to provide cash incentives to 5 million families but only 3.5 million received them
Although the Finance Division has approved Tk1,720 crore for providing food aid to 12.5 million vulnerable households during the nationwide lockdown, low-income people are not convinced by the initiative.
For instance, last year, Tk1,258 crore was allocated under a stimulus package aimed to provide the poor with Tk2,500 each.
“I heard about government assistance for the poor last year, but I never received it. I did not even see anybody I knew get any cash or food aid,” said Ratan Karmakar, a barber from Azimpur Chapra Masjid area, who was unemployed during the lockdown last year.
Dulal Mia, a tailor from Lalbagh area of the capital, also said he did not receive any aid last year when his shop was closed for 66 days during the general holidays.
Abul Bashar, a rickshaw puller who lives in Kamrangir Char, had to go around begging for food from door-to-door last year as he too could not get his hands on any aid.
Although the government had initially planned to provide the cash incentives to 5 million families under the Tk1,258 crore package last year, only 3.5 million families received them.
The initiative had to be stopped after allegations surfaced regarding anomalies over the list of beneficiaries.
An OMS rice program was also undertaken last year to allow the poor in urban areas to buy rice at Tk10 per kg, but that program was also abandoned because there was no list of beneficiaries.
As a result, household incomes decreased by 70% due to the onslaught of Covid-19 last year, according to a joint research by South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) and ActionAid Bangladesh.
About 42% of 5,577 households went below the poverty line due to the pandemic last year, according to another survey carried out by SANEM in November and December.
Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said: “Amid the lockdown last year, all savings were withdrawn by low-income families. And now, they are not able to prepare as they do not know how long this lockdown will actually be.”
If the government provides food and aid this year, getting that to genuine low-income people will be a big challenge if there is mismanagement, she further said.
Economists have suggested that the government open a hotline service during this lockdown, through which the ultra-poor can communicate their sufferings and the government can take prompt steps to provide food to them.
They also proposed that the government take steps like sending money digitally to the ultra-poor who suffer financially during the lockdown.
“These poor people were not taken into consideration during the notice of the lockdown,” said Nazrul Islam, former economics professor at the Dhaka University.
“It has never been understood that poor people cannot not be kept home without food and aid,” he added.
Last year, several cash aid and relief mismanagement incidents took place which were reported in the media, he said, adding that the food aid this year will have no outcome without proper cash distribution management.