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Bangladesh Covid-19 aid suspension draws flak

Church calls for resumption of relief schemes for poor communities hit hard by the pandemic

Bangladesh Covid-19 aid suspension draws flak

Poor and low-income people, hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, line up to buy subsidized food in Dhaka on April 8. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

The Bangladesh government’s decision to suspend a special nationwide relief distribution program for the poor and needy during the Covid-19 pandemic has drawn criticism from aid groups and the Church.

Dr. Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, said on June 10 that the relief program that continued for nearly three months was no longer required as people have regained their purchasing power since the lifting of the nationwide shutdown on May 31. He said relief would be distributed only to Covid-19 hotspots.

"There is no need to distribute nationwide relief anymore as people resumed their work after the withdrawal of the general holiday from this month. We no longer get requests for relief from the deputy commissioners or representatives of the local government bodies," Rahman told English-language newspaper New Age.

Rahman added that the ministry had distributed 22,000 tons of rice, 9 billion taka (US106,000) in cash for purchasing essentials and 2.39 billion taka for purchasing food for children among needy families through local government representatives.

However, UCA News has spoken to several people who complained they didn’t receive any aid from the government schemes despite enlisting with names.

Taijul Hasan, 34, a day laborer from Natore district, is one of those still seeking government aid.

“In the past months, I was not able to work most days. To cope with the loss of income, my family has been forced to cut one meal and we take meals twice a day,” the Muslim father of two told UCA News.

Hasan said an NGO provided him with 2,000 taka (US$24), which ran out quickly. He also has poor and needy relatives in a similar situation.

"I request the government, please don’t stop relief distribution programs and include real poor and needy like us," he pleaded.

Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, criticized the government’s aid suspension.

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“Many people lost their jobs, many are not getting a full salary, and we also see garment workers losing their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. People are suffering and it will increase day by day. This is a wrong decision and it should be resumed and continued in a proper way without any corruption," Father Gomes told UCA News.

Catholic individuals, organizations and churches in eight archdioceses and dioceses raised donations and have continued to support thousands of Christians and non-Christians during the crisis.

Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh has undertaken a massive aid program since the country declared a nationwide shutdown from March 26.

Caritas has provided food and cash worth 1.4 billion taka to 44,000 people, according to Ranjon Francis Rozario, assistant executive director (programs) of Caritas Bangladesh.

Despite the resumption of normal life, the government aid program should have been continued, Rozario said. 

"Obviously, people are going around now, doing their jobs and making money for their livelihoods, but many still need support. It would have been better if the government continued relief programs and make sure truly needy people get it,” Rozario told UCA News.

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