Last year, the cost of living in Dhaka hit a four-year high. It rose by an alarming 8.44 percentage points from that of 2016, as revealed by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB)—which brought out a report on living costs in 2017—at the Dhaka Reporters Unity on Tuesday. With rising prices of essentials and basic amenities, living in Dhaka city is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many.
Prices have gone up so much that any further increase in food prices, electricity or gas risks hurting the economy badly. The nationwide hike in rice prices last year, for example, seriously affected the people, particularly low-income groups. The signs of soaring rice prices—weak food reserve, corruption and speculation among some quarters, etc.—were there all along and could have been mitigated had the food ministry stepped in and taken timely measures.
Last year, we also saw an increase in gas prices which would have gone up further had the High Court not declared the second phase gas hike for household consumers illegal. CAB has asserted that the increase in gas and electricity prices by the government was not justified. Along with all this, house rent and healthcare costs have also risen.
With costs on all sides going up, has quality of life in Dhaka improved proportionately for the vast majority who are barely making ends meet? The answer is of course in the negative. The trend of arbitrary price hikes of essentials and basic amenities and shifting a significant burden on to consumers can no longer continue. Living affordability must be prioritised by the government and the recommendations put forward by CAB—which include direct purchase of rice from farmers by government and involving the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh in import and sale of commodities—should be taken into serious consideration.