A book worth reading | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 04, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:22 AM, May 04, 2021


A book worth reading

Humanity currently faces a three-pronged crisis -- the loss of life, a slide in income, and a dwindling economy -- due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that began in December 2019.

With no end in sight for Covid-19's relentless onslaught, the world finds itself in one of the biggest crises since World War II.

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And since Bangladesh's exports are highly dependent on the global economy, the country has suffered heavy losses in terms of both lives and livelihoods.

The economy has lost its rhythm.

But what is the actual nature of the crisis? What is its effect on employment? What are the steps needed to overcome the situation?

Rizwanul Islam, a former special adviser for the employment sector at the International Labour Office in Geneva, explores these questions in his book, 'Coronaghate Arthoniti O Sramobazar' (Shocks of coronavirus in the economy and labour market).

Baatighar published the book in March early this year, when Bangladesh witnessed a sharp climb in coronavirus cases across the country.

In his book, Islam begins his discussion with a brief introduction to the pandemic's subsequent and lockdown measures imposed by nations worldwide in an effort to contain the virus.

During a nationwide lockdown, the country's inhabitants were asked to maintain strict restrictions on public movement while all economic activities were brought to a halt. These measures had a devastating effect on many countries.

As a result, the global economy fell into recession in the second quarter of 2020. This had a severe impact on the job market as unemployment rose sharply in many countries, including the US.

A few nations, such as the UK, France and Germany, offered incentives to their employers to prevent job cuts.

Bangladesh was no exception. 

Ever since the country's first coronavirus patient was detected on March 8 last year, the number of infections continued to rise, affecting economic activities and millions of jobs.  While discussing the issue of Covid-19's effect on the labour market, the author of the book estimates that 1.35 crore became jobless during the first shutdown imposed between April and May last year.

Some 300,000-400,000 garment workers might have lost their jobs because of the closure of factories following declining work orders from global fashion retailing brands at the time.

Arranged in eight chapters, Islam begins his discussion by highlighting the effect of Covid-19 on the world economy in the initial chapters, where he also brings to the fore measures taken by economies such as the US and the EU to minimise the fallout.

He also demonstrates the contrasting experiences of the US, EU, and other countries during the pandemic.

The writer, who taught economics at the University of Dhaka, then brings the reader's focus to Bangladesh.

In order to provide a broad view on the subject, Islam points out the weaknesses of Bangladesh's economy, which saw steady growth over the last two decades.  But despite this growth, its achievements in poverty reduction are yet to become substantial while inequality continues to grow.

Besides, the pandemic-induced economic downturn also revealed several cracks in the economy as Islam found that one-fifth of the country's labour became unemployed during the initial lockdown period.

Migrant workers suffered as well, as a large number of them were forced to return home while the second wave of infections is preventing them from leaving for new jobs.

Islam also noted the government's initiatives to reduce Covid-19's impact.

However, Islam went on to say that there was a gap in the preparation required to face the current health and economic crisis.

"There was a lack of institutional capacity to implement the stimulus programmes," he added. Islam rightly pointed out that the country's poor need cash support the most.

"It is not that cash transfer programmes just suffered delays, but the amount of transfers and implementation of the programme was frustrating," he said, adding that micro and small entrepreneurs were unable to avail stimulus funds unlike big corporations.

Overall, the writer observes that Bangladesh is witnessing a situation of increased inequality.

Elements of inequality exist in labour market as well, he says, informing readers that more than 40 per cent of the total labour force work on a daily or weekly basis.

"So their situation is very vulnerable," Islam said. 

Above all, having the opportunity to work from home amid the ongoing pandemic is an important issue.

But from that point of view, only a small portion of the employed have the privilege.

Islam also answers questions related to the country's economic recovery.

With his vision of an inclusive economy, he recommends increased and decent employment, sustainable reduction of poverty and inequality, and introduction of universal social protection, universal public health care and education.

Like many, he does not want to see people go to bed hungry, suffer from poor health or feel deprived of their voice.

His ultimate message is to build an economy where everyone will have a strong footing to deal with future crises and have a better life.

In brief, for a quick understanding of what Covid-19 has left us with and its impact on the livelihoods of millions, this book is a must read.   


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