Impact of Covid-19 is not much dissimilar to impact of the climate crisis
The first official death related to Covid-19 in Bangladesh was recorded on March 8, 2020. Just like many other countries, Bangladesh initiated an official lockdown from March 26 in order to contain and reduce the spread of the virus within the community.
Many organizations within the service sector have opted for work-from-home, but theportion of the country’s population currently employed in the informal sector is struggling. 85% of this group have had their livelihoods hindered due to the lockdown. These people are some of the most vulnerable during this national economic shock due to the lack of proper employment benefits and compensation structures.
Alam Mia, one of ICCCAD’s stakeholder is a van puller and his average daily income is Tk500 ($6) in the Mongla Municipality where he currently resides. When asked about his current situation Alam told us that with the shortage of income the food situation has become unbearable for people like him and his family.
Consequently, a lack of income is causing him and his family to be deprived of basic rights such as health care and access to clean water. The ominous and looming large food insecurity that has started with the nutritional decline will be intensified by the end-April.
The majority of these workers like Alam Mia belong to the low income and lower-middle- income brackets and most of them make just enough to cover their living expenses while residing in the developing peri-urban areas.
These people living in the coastal belts are exposed to climate vulnerabilities and often live in economic uncertainty. Cyclones like Amphan are more intense and more frequent due to climate change in recent times. With additions of the pandemic like situations, scenarios for them become direr.
Hence, a loss in employment or income would directly impact the livelihood of these non- essential workings exposing them to the injurious effects of this economy both in the short and long term with the possibility of no recovery.
A recent perception survey to identify new poor households by Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) suggested that around Tk6,000 crores will be needed to support these emerging new poor due to the Covid crisis.
Furthermore, the report suggested that these new vulnerable groups were above the poverty line before the crisis started.
In Mongla Port there are gatherings of seasonal populations that are normally in the category of the up and above the poverty line but the new situation created by the Covid-19 and cyclone Amphan left them vulnerable to this new statistic.
At this uncertain situation, these groups cannot come out for help or do not have Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) cards and their plight is beyond description.
Rumi Akter, another worker at the EPZ (Export Processing Zone), lived under uncertainty during the lockdown period. Rumi Akter, like other industry workers in Bangladesh, earns the minimum wage in Mongla, which is around Tk7000 ($100) per month.
When talking to her she mentioned in despair that Covid-19 was least of her worries. “When you don’t have food or water you cannot think about health,” she said. Like Rumi Akther many in the area are now using up their hard-earned savings just to survive. Situations like these as a researcher makes us wonder about the current environmental disparity that exists in the Global South communities. In light of the current protests that have been gripping the United States of America, one can ponder about the environmental racism and injustice that often goes unanswered form countries like Bangladesh.
Negotiators in the poorest countries – which bear the least responsibility for causing climate change - are struggling between economic growth and getting people out of poverty while facing a climate emergency.
Prof Saleemul Huq, director of ICCCAD mentioned recently we are currently fighting at three fronts; Covid 19, more frequent disasters and economic crisis. Moving forward one can wonder what we as a nation might face, especially for people like Alam and Rumi, who are bearing the full brunt of the pandemic.
Adnan Qader is Senior Research Officer at ICCCAD. His research interests lie in climate and water security.
Nafis Fuad is working in ICCCAD as Research Officer and his main research interest is in urban climate resilience and development.