Poverty rate soaring up
According to a report by the World Bank, the ongoing pandemic has reversed Bangladesh's steady trend of poverty reduction, which had continued over the past two decades. World Bank has also said that 30 percent of the country's population is now living below the poverty line.
According to various studies that revealed in the recent past, the pandemic created around 17.5 to 20 million new poor in the country. Despite the government's relatively quick response to the economic shock from the pandemic, its stimulus packages for the marginalised were not very effective due to a number of implementation challenges. Furthermore, as the country is now being severely hit by the second and more intensifying wave of the virus, things could only get much worse.
As we enter a fresh round of 'strict lockdown', the economy is expected to get hit hard again while marginalised groups have to bear the brunt of it. Moreover, workers of urban informal sector were ignored largely despite the havoc of pandemic more than a year. Now they are going to face fresh adversities of the second wave again due to the hard lockdown. The current situation also suggests that the lockdown will continue for few more days as the death toll yet keeps rising every day. Therefore, we can assume that the poor and ultra poor people will face exacerbating woes in different forms now.
There is also a higher possibility for private companies to launch layoff programmes once again. Understandably, many middle class people may find it difficult to survive in the city. Last year, we have seen many people leave and move to their hometowns as they couldn't afford to bear the cost of living. Most of these people also hadn't availed any assistance from state-sponsored incentive packages. Their cries remain unheard as always.
In order to mitigate these losses and to prevent more people from falling back into poverty, the government immediately needs to come up with new incentive packages. However, this time they must design it in a sustainable way and deliver it more efficiently. Lesson must be taken from the last year's chaotic situation as we lacked transparency and accountability. We recommend providing cash incentives and distribute cooked food in different points of the city. Establishing soup kitchens will be a timely move. Many voluntary organisations are doing so but government initiatives are still missing.
In the long run, a proper national database of the poor and ultra-poor should be set up to support them with social security support so that quick and transparent cash transfer can happen.
Lastly, we expect a concerted effort from the NGOs, elite society and government to tackle this situation.