The pandemic has critically impacted indigenous people living in plains, and pushed around 62 percent of them below extreme poverty line, said Indigenous People's Development Services (IPDS) at a webinar yesterday.
Since many of these people are informal-sector workers -- like daily wage earners, beauty parlour and RMG workers, who have no job security -- 72 percent of the salaried employees faced job cuts, were promised re-employment in the name of temporary leave, or fired with little to no compensation.
IPDS President Sanjeeb Drong presented the alarming findings of the recent rapid survey titled "Impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of indigenous people living in the plains of Bangladesh" at the webinar "Consultation with the Media on Covid-19 Pandemic and the situation of Indigenous People in the Plain Land, Bangladesh", organised by IPDS.
The rapid survey, conducted by IPDS and supported by Minority Rights Group Europe, also showed that 92 percent of the indigenous people (18,40,000 of the total 20 lakh population) are struggling with income reduction, while 20 percent said they are receiving partial payment.
Besides, among who live in urban areas for jobs, 60 percent have faced problems in paying rent and dues because of job loss and partial payment, which is why many moved or are preparing to move to villages.
In some cases, landlords did not allow them move without paying rent, forcing those families to sell village land, properties or other valuables to pay dues.
The study also stated that at least 5,00,000 indigenous people have become the "new poor", due to closure of various institutions and loss of private jobs. The crisis has been exacerbated among Garo migrants.
More than 60 percent of respondents said they did not receive any relief or assistance from the government or NGOs at the beginning of the pandemic.
IPDS collected the data from 1,205 indigenous families of 35 ethnic groups in 28 districts via face-to-face interview, phone call and email.
The survey recommended that special financial packages be provided to indigenous families living in plains, mentioning names of beneficiaries.
Additionally, those who lost jobs, are facing job uncertainty or got their salaries cut should be provided with a special package consisting of 50 percent grants and 50 percent long-term loans against low-interest rates.
It also recommends providing part-time jobs for at least 10,000 youths, so they can sustain themselves for at least six to 12 months, and providing financial support to almost 5,000 beauty parlour workers who are mostly unemployed now.
Zakir Hossain -- president of Nagorik Uddyog, a national human rights and development organisation -- said indigenous people have been selling their labours and crops in advance and taking loans against high interests to cope with the crisis.
"This will also create a possible risk of further aggravation of their lands if they cannot repay the loans on time," he said.
Zakir also emphasised on ensuring long-term social security for these people and stressed on collecting upazila-wise segregated data of beneficiaries to financially help them.
Sarah Marandy -- director (social development) of Gram Bikash Kendra, a regional non-profit development organisation working in the northwest region -- also spoke at the webinar, specifically about the woes of indigenous people in the northern region.