Is there any choice between lives and livelihoods?
There is a debate about which one comes first--lives or livelihoods? This is very much similar to the egg or the chicken first. On the verge of the critical situation of Covid-19, people are searching for their ways and means, but they are in a dilemma; they are hankering after hopes of survival till the end-side of the life tunnel but no hopes glittering either to embrace.
What should they do now? There is a check and balance between the two--lives and livelihoods. But the question is who is to bell the cat whereas the individual itself becomes the victim of the situation for life survival--the integral part of the life philosophy or the harsh reality of life struggle.
Millions of families across the world are now experiencing a sort of bitterness of life and forced them to live from hand to mouth because of the pandemic situation led by the Covid-19 whereas their income doesn't depend on a specific, dependable source like a job or anything else. In Bangladesh, for example, a large proportion of the population is constantly struggling for a living, and their ability to earn a viable income that is completely balanced.
According to the latest statistics of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Bangladesh holds the prestigious second position in the arena of the global RMG. This sector has been a huge source of employment and income over many decades in Bangladesh, the pandemic situation of Covid-19 hits clothing sales. The high-and middle-income countries fell off a cliff resulting in cancelled orders and delayed payments that affect the people who are directly or indirectly related to this sector.
The woes of working-class people know no bounds as they have lost their only earning source and resulting in going back to their families living in the rural areas and engaging in subsistence farming in favour of survival. The impact of movement restrictions and lockdowns has led to sufferings of the poorest families more intensely than before. Thousands of migrant workers are being sent home from the Gulf and other countries, and so, we are losing valuable remittances, and we consider the return of remittance fighters a burden on villages and towns. Therefore, the effects of all this have been enormous in the fight against extreme poverty in Bangladesh.
Illogical price hikes for farming inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, farming tools, and so on are endangering not only our upcoming planting season but also the work opportunities and income associated with it. Therefore, the economic whiplash of the pandemic brings an ominous upshot for the upcoming days.
The pathetic life picture of non-government teachers in our country during the Covid-19 makes us worried concerning our children's future education. Now, they are in a dilemma. Poor circumstances of the dual existence of lives and livelihoods become a burden on one side and somehow keeping the balance parallel between the two is quite challenging on the other side. So, it has become a burning question: what should they emphasize first--lives or livelihoods?
Like other industries, the tourism industry is also experiencing the most awful situation ever before. Closed borders, flying restrictions, and cancelled or stopped flights for long days have decimated the industry. Thousands of people who are directly or indirectly related to this sector or depend on their livelihoods are now in utter despair as they have lost their job and compelled to switch their profession only for lives and livelihoods.
The huge negative impact of Covid-19 is evident in the lifestyle and livelihoods of the ordinary people in Bangladesh: lack of job opportunities, unemployment, insufficient income, gender inequality, violence against women, vandalism, antisocial activities, poverty, etc are increasing among urban and rural residents across the country.
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented economic and social crisis in Bangladesh. In the past few decades, the significant increase in household income and poverty reduction efforts can be offset by the loss of income of the poor. Because of government control measures, the demand for industrial products and services has fallen sharply, especially in the informal sector, such as agriculture, export-oriented clothing manufacturing, and other sectors of the labor-intensive economy.
The official unemployment rate in Bangladesh is about 4 per cent. Moreover, between 2 and 2.2 million educated unemployed people are added to this list every year. Most employees work in the informal sector. The Research Institute (PRI) predicts that because of the pandemic and related government control, the country's unemployment rate will tend to worsen.
During the last two decades, the rise of the manufacturing industry, especially the number of employed citizens, has been a noteworthy advancement in this sector. About four million workers have contributed greatly to this increase and so, there is no argument about the role model of RMG in economic enhancement as well as one of the driving forces for dropping from extreme poverty among the employed.
In fact, this particular sector has played a big role in empowering women by employing female workers with limited or no education at all. These people in society are in great danger of losing income and livelihood as the corona-caused epidemic has left a large portion of them jobless. Employees in the RMG industry are facing a significant problem of income loss and joblessness because of a sudden decrease in demand for Bangladeshi RMG products in US and European markets.
Based on the above discussion, it is understandable that we need balance between the lives and livelihoods, because without the presence of one, another will be barren and meaningless. Nevertheless, we have to continue our life journey in the midst of struggling with both survival- lives and livelihoods. But the situation demands the ultimate priority of which?
Rana Dutta, Assistant
Deputy Secretary, BKMEA