The absence of a reliable database on the poor has emerged as a major obstacle to the distribution of public and private food aid among the vulnerable, experts said yesterday.
An extensive study is needed to prepare a complete and flawless database such that initiatives can be taken in an effective manner to help the poor and ensure food security, said Mosammat Nazmanar Khanum, food secretary.
She spoke while addressing a virtual programme to unveil the findings of a study—conducted by Right to Food Bangladesh, a platform of food security campaigners—on the "Impacts of Covid-19 on food intake and nutrition of poor people: a rapid appraisal".
The government provided 30 kilograms of food as aid to each of 50 lakh poor families during the pandemic, the secretary said.
"Providing only rice will not ensure nutrition of the poor. They need other foods as well."
About the next initiative, she stressed the need for preparing a reliable database on the poor and vulnerable so that assistance can be offered to them instantly and without any irregularities.
To that end, she asked the Right to Food Bangladesh to conduct a broad study to find out the exact number of the vulnerable people and poor, which would be helpful for the policymakers to take any initiatives.
She acknowledged that the immediate assistance that was provided instantly during the general shutdown could not cover all the poor properly. However, she said the assistance will be continued in different modalities.
"We don't have a scarcity of food. If we ensure a distribution channel, then we will be able to solve the food crisis for the poor."
Food security cannot be ensured for the poor due to a lack of law on the right to food, said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahamd, chairman of the platform.
"So, we urge the government to enact a law for ensuring food security for all."
The government has given a number of incentives to the poor and vulnerable, but the target group did not get the benefit as there is no proper database, said Ahmad, also chairman of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF).
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), suggested this type of study should be conducted regularly to understand the situation of the vulnerable people.
Later, necessary steps can be taken as per the study findings, he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left a serious impact on the low-income people, according to him.
If a database on the poor can be developed, it will be helpful for the food and education ministry to undertake projects to mitigate shocks, he said.
Moazzem apprehended that the situation may worsen in the days to come if the pandemic prolongs.
The overall nutrition situation of the country has deteriorated in the face of the pandemic, said SM Zulfiqar Ali, senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).
He said there is a wide disparity in nutritious food intake between the rich and the poor.
The government must pay special attention to address the situation as only half of the helpless and poor people have received assistance, he said.
He said the local government bodies as well as NGOs should be effectively involved in initiatives to help the poor, including the people who are about to fall into the poverty trap.
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected 98.6 per cent of the poor, who have seen a decline in income, loss of jobs, closure of shops and business activities and even a complete halt of income, said Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow of BIDS, in her keynote speech.
Although the country is going through an economic downturn, only a few respondents of the survey have changed their occupations during the pandemic, which implies that it was not easy to get new jobs.