Food security for those below the poverty line should be the primary concern right now
The economic damage to Bangladesh due to the nationwide general holiday or lockdown in the crisis caused by the coronavirus has already entered a huge scale. This situation is assumed to continue. It is not yet clear where the situation of the country will be in the coming days from the activities and strategies of Bangladesh regarding the Covid-19 crisis.
But one thing is clear now that our country is entering a national crisis, from which a precise plan of sudden passage is not very prominent. Millions of poor people are facing a new kind of uncertainty that they have never seen before, as economic activities have been shut down due to nationwide lockdowns.
For them, lockdown means that there is no work for them and no stock of food. Since this lockdown has been going on for a long time, the poor people of the country are striving to get their food. It turns out that many are helpless to provide three meals a day for their families.
Because these poor people have to fight a lot in their lives and livelihoods, the coronavirus has created a new scary environment in their struggle for survival. In the last five decades after independence, Bangladesh has never faced such a crisis.
We see that the government has taken some initiatives, such as emergency food or cash assistance, to help the poor in Bangladesh, although to a limited extent. It has also announced incentive packages of over Tk 100,000 crore for traders, farmers and poor people. But now, the biggest concern in the country at the moment should be how to provide basic food aid to a large section of the poor, who are already facing food shortages or are going to face a food crisis in the coming days or a week or two.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 20% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, while according to the World Bank, about half the population lives below the poverty line, considering the poverty line suitable to low-middle-income countries in Bangladesh.
While it is uncertain how long the current lockdown will last, the coming months will certainly see a major downturn in economic activity and the country’s economy is set to suffer huge losses. Because within a few months, the chances of a novel coronavirus vaccine or a reliable treatment for the disease are rare.
Over the next six to 12 months, a large portion of the country’s population will be at risk of food insecurity for those low middle-class peoples. They have no idea how to provide three meals a day for their family members. According to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and other sources, each family has about five members. As such, in the current situation, about 10 million families, who are in desperate need of food during this disaster, need to be provided food aid on an emergency basis.
According to reports, to ensure minimum food security for these ten million poor families of the country, the report proposes to provide Tk 6,000 per month to the families so that they can buy essential food for the survival of their family members in this emergency.
The calculation of the proposed expenditure per household is based on the data of a large-scale family survey they have previously collected, which is consistent with the recent BRAC and Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) survey on the lives and livelihoods of the poor in Bangladesh.
So, the big challenge facing Bangladesh now is to provide Tk 6,000 crore to ensure a month’s supply of food to ten million families, who are currently starving or are going to face extreme food crisis in the coming days.
So right now, the government can take steps where emergency nutritional needs must be satisfied by increased social protection programs, allocation of food to the most crisis families, exclusion from tax on essential food for workers in the economic sector, etc. And at the same time, various payments should be made to help needy peoples satisfy their basic needs. The global Covid-19 pandemic is generated by a once-in-a-generation pathogen that has proven competent in making the health systems of the richest countries of the world to their knees.
That means, the fight against Covid-19 cannot be taken out by the government alone. It will need a unique level of coordination between the public and private at the local and international levels. Because the Covid-19 is a global crisis, so we have a moral duty here and those of us who can help have a little more obligation to extend a helping hand in this crisis. We believe that as the government takes various steps to protect the vulnerable citizens in this crisis, we the citizens can also stand together in this disaster and contribute to the formation of our society.
If we can make a great sacrifice for our independence, then why can’t we give up this small part of our income to overcome such a great crisis of post-independence Bangladesh, a kind of crisis we have never gone through before? We believe that the combined efforts of all of us will be the lifeblood of poor families affected by the novel coronavirus and will play a role in overcoming this crisis.
Md Fahmedul Islam Dewan is a student of law.