Poor people are seen in a slum in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. Economists have warned that millions of people in Bangladesh will fall into poverty in the aftermath of Covid-19. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will make the poor even poorer and throw about 50 million into poverty in Bangladesh, leading economists have warned.
In the past, natural disasters like cyclones and flooding as well as climate change effects were the main drivers of poverty, but the coronavirus outbreak will cause a spike in poverty as it has impacted all sectors in the country, said Zahid Hussain, a lead economist at the World Bank.
The most affected will be those involved in unorganized labor sectors including daily laborers, transport workers, rickshaw pullers, restaurant workers and small businessmen, Hussain said in an interview with Bengali daily Prothom Alo on April 15.
About 50 million people who live slightly above the poverty line by earning more than US$2 a day may fall below the line in the aftermath of Covid-19, he warned.
About 20 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million people are poor and 10.5 percent are extremely poor, according to a 2019 study by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
The study calculated people’s ability to buy and consume kilocalories of food instead of gross income or purchasing power parity.
Anu Muhammad, a professor of economics at state-run Jahangirnagar University near Dhaka, said the impacts of Covid-19 on the poor will be harsh.
“We have always cast doubts on the government’s definition of poverty as we believe the real figure was even higher. Our observations and indications show that this global crisis will have drastically negative impacts on poor nations like Bangladesh, and more than 50 million will plunge into poverty,” he told UCA News.
Despite a government stimulus packages for industrial and agricultural sectors as well as relief programs, the real poor are unlikely to benefit and survive, Anu said.
“Corruption will eat out whatever is for the poor unless we fix the system that deprives them. This global crisis is also a result of an unequal global system, and the world must learn a great lesson and abandon the development of wastages such as arms, plastics and nuclear weapons,” he added.
Covid-19 is a curse but can be a blessing if we use the opportunities, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, a social researcher and rights activist.
“The damage has already been done, but we need to focus more on recovery and support for vulnerable communities. The government has come up with stimulus packages, and we need to ensure the support reaches those who need it badly. This might improve the situation for hard-hit people,” said Father Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.
“In the aftermath, in our country and across the globe, we should follow the economic model of less production and less consumption, and this can lead us to a better and more equal world.”
Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh has distributed hygiene kits, masks and cash handouts to people in eight regional working areas, and there are plans for better and creative projects to address urban and rural poverty, according to Daniel Snal, a disaster management officer at Caritas Sylhet.
Caritas will prioritize income-generating and self-employment projects to help people fight poverty effectively, he said.