The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on food, one of the most important fundamental rights of humans. The situation of the food problem is not very atypical in our country. The food security disrupts during the natural disaster but the condition becomes complex and uncertain during a pandemic outbreaks.
Covid-19 was declared as a health emergency earlier but currently it has an impact in each and every sector . When addressing the food security issue, both the rural and urban areas would get the attention directly. In contrast, the small cities with both urban and rural potentiality and challenges would lag in this front.
A study during the first phase of Covid-19 lockdown showed the situation of food security in Mongla and Noapara upazila of Bangladesh. The writing highlights some of the key findings from The Covid-19 rapid response research funded by the GCRF Living Deltas Hub NE/S008926/1.
It was under the ‘Liveable Regional Cities in Bangladesh’ project funded by the Capacity Development Acceleration Fund of the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). SHLC is funded via UK Research and Innovation, and administered through the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
The scenario and coping mechanism during lockdown were different from the regular days. Livelihood opportunities for a day labourer, street hawker, rickshaw puller were greatly affected during the first phase of lockdown. Wage earners faced difficulties and struggled to maintain pre-Covid income. This reduced earnings always contributed to less food consumption and reduction in nutrition access.
However, the effect of food insecurity problems is not the same for the people having a regular source of income. Still, the scenario was not unexpected after an economic reduction during the pandemic. Moreover, the government system related to supply and mitigation of demand doesn’t always work in these small cities like major cities, and this inequity is valid for the global south even for the research.
The study shares the comparison on food security issues before and during Covid-19 . The first study took place in September-October 2019 and the later part was done during March-May, 2020. Less funding, resources and more minor political influences are typical in these small cities and for which the inhabitants suffer the most. While the informal settlement dwellers are ensuring food security, it isn’t necessarily providing nutrition. Due to the high expenses of living in the city, it’s become difficult for people to eat balanced food.
While the people in these small towns find it more challenging to get used to cyclone Amphan, salinity intrusion and storm surges in these areas became aggravated during the covid-19 lockdown. Though people were willing to follow the imposed laws of the government regarding COVID-19, residents faced trouble in going to work and in buying things necessary food and essential items. Both Mongla and Noapara Municipality are dependent on outside sources for food production and this led to a price hike during the pandemic driven lockdown.
A resident said, “We are consuming fewer foods in terms of quantity and quality. Now I cook less rice than before. Sometimes we manage to get some vegetables or spinach. As our source of food is mostly dependent on the income, and I am not doing any work – so our family is dependent on the very much lower amount of my son’s earnings.”
Deficiency of affordability and limited access to the market is simultaneously portraying these scenarios. Even if people are spending 100% of their income, they can’t even buy adequate food. Time restriction in the daily market during lockdown was another reason vendors and buyers had faced losses and difficulties.
Taking loans from others, cutting off the quality and quantity in food consumption as well as meals, increasing total allocation for food, accessing relief are the common path to accommodate the issue. The local authorities, non-governmental organizations, the military and the Upazila (the second-lowest tier of regional administration in Bangladesh) have worked hard to ensure that residents could survive the crisis by providing food relief packages immediately.
The amount of food given in Mongla was 10 kilograms of rice, 2 kilograms of potatoes, 500 grams of pulses and some soap. In Noapara, residents received 20 kilograms of rice, 1 kilogram of onions, 1 kilogram of pulses such as lentils, some soap and cooking oil. But this assistance is not adequate for all people who need help.
The other side of this issue is that middle-income people can’t ask for help as easily as lower-income people. Sometimes the situation turns very differently for them who are going to take relief for the first time of their life.
Also, the borrowing money options from relatives or people become less as most of the known people weren't able to provide money. The overall condition for coping with the present day situation of this pandemic, people are getting exhausted whether they are from middle income people or lower income ones.
The heterogenic poor and their vulnerability in accessing food become difficult during disasters be it Covid-19 pandemic of impacts of climate change. Drawing from evidence-based research, the social safety net and other related programs must be prioritized in small cities and municipalities especially in climate vulnerable areas.
In addition, international, national and local policy and strategies need to focus on these cities and people so that they can be helped to develop according to their needs and expectations, especially after this pandemic breakdown of economic conditions .
Sumaiya Binte Selim is a research officer of International Centre for Climate Change and Development and she was a part of the stated projects.