Helping The Poor: Govt needs to do more, faster | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 28, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:33 AM, March 28, 2020

Helping The Poor: Govt needs to do more, faster

Say experts as authorities prepare list of those in dire need of food aid, other support amid coronavirus fallout

Anwara Begum was seeking alms sitting in front of her shanty at the capital's Bhashantek slum with the summer sun dipping towards the horizon yesterday.

The widow in her mid-60s received only Tk 150 from the slum dwellers in the previous two days, but yesterday turned out to be even more difficult for her. She got just Tk 20 the entire day.

"People are stuck at home and shops are closed. Who will give [me] money? I cannot even go outside the slum now," said a frustrated Anwara, whose day labourer husband died years ago.

For decades, Anwara has been depending on her daily income to survive. Asked whether she had any money left at home, she said she could not save anything after buying food and paying a monthly rent of Tk 1,200 for her 50 square feet room, where she now lives alone after marrying off her three daughters.

"If I don't earn much, I don't know how will I survive," she told The Daily Star.

Like Anwara, thousands of other marginalised people are left in a tight spot amid a 10-day government shutdown from Thursday. They cannot go out of their home and earn their living.

The government is enforcing the shutdown as part of its efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, which so far has claimed five lives in the country.

According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 20.5 percent of the country's population of 16.6 crore are poor. Of them, more than half fall under the extreme poverty line.

Recently, the government has announced some initiatives taking the plight of these people in consideration, including measures to reach food to them, and to encourage them stay indoors.   

The Department of Disaster Management (DMM), under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, has a stock of about 24,717 metric tonnes of rice. It also has an allocation of Tk 7.58 crore under its Humanitarian Assistance Programme to deal with the crisis.

On March 24, the department allocated 6,500 metric tonnes of rice and Tk 5.5 crore to the deputy commissioners of the 64 districts so that the DCs can help those in need.

The DCs along with the Upazila Nirbahi Officers and local government representatives are now preparing lists of those in need of support in their respective districts, said sources at the DMM.

Economists, however, said the government must start distributing relief materials immediately among the marginalised ones.

"The government needs to prepare a map with details of the beneficiaries and the places they live," noted economist Hossain Zillur Rahman, also the executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre, told The Daily Star yesterday.

Another important thing is that the government must ensure that the initiatives do not get stuck in bureaucratic tangles.

Therefore, it has to be done immediately with coordination among DCs, city governments, NGOs and volunteer organisations, he added.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said since a large number of people have already moved to the villages from urban areas, their names might not be on the lists being prepared by the local administration.

"These people will have to be included in the list immediately so that they too get the relief materials," he said.

One major challenge would be to identify those who lost their homesteads to floods or river erosions and shifted to the cities and other urban areas, he noted.

That section of people could not go back to their homes, said Prof Mustafizur, adding that the city corporations with help from other organisations should identity them and create a database so that they don't remain left out.

Volunteer organisations can play a big role here, he added.

Senior Secretary Shah Kamal at the disaster management and relief ministry said they would sit in a meeting next week to find out what else could be done.

He said the DCs were asked to send demand lists. "Once they send those, we will make arrangements," he said.


"The DCs are the centre of the government relief efforts. They will work in coordination with the local government bodies to distribute relief materials among the poor," Shah Kamal told The Daily Star.

According to estimates of the local administrations, there are nearly 9.5 lakh day labourers in the country, he said.

He also said the DCs were preparing packets of relief materials -- each containing 10kg rice, 5kg potato, one kg lentil, one kg salt, one litre soybean oil, and a piece of soap -- for the distribution. 

The relief materials will be sent to the homes of the beneficiaries as part of government efforts to ensure social distancing, which is vital to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Shah Kamal said they have already allocated 2,000 tonnes of rice and Tk 55 lakh for the poor people living in Dhaka and Chattogram cities. Of the amount, Tk 30 lakh has been allocated for those in the capital.

Of the allocated rice, 1,200 tonnes are for those in Dhaka while the rest for Chattogram, he said.

The secretary also said they were giving topmost priority on the villages as a huge number of people have already left for their village homes.

In Dhaka, the DC office and the city corporations will soon start working to distribute relief items among slum dwellers and day labourers.

Dhaka DC Abu Saleh Mohammed Ferdous Khan said they had already received a support of Tk 20 lakh and 200 tonnes of rice from the DDM.

"We are still preparing the list of the needy people. Those who are in dire needs will be given priority," he told The Daily Star.

This newspaper reached the DCs in several other districts for comments.

Satkhira DC SM Mostafa Kamal said, "We're making a list of rickshaw and van pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, cobblers, porters and day labourers."

"Our primary target is to give relief materials to 200 people in the municipality area and 100 marginalised people in each upazila," he said. Satkhira has six upazilas and a municipality.

He said they were likely to begin the distribution today.

The district administration of Gaibandha also received Tk 20 lakh and 200 tonnes of rice. DC Abdul Matin said he instructed the UNOs to prepared lists of the marginalised people.

"We'll send the relief packets to people's home directly to avoid any sort of crowd," he added.

As part of the efforts to help the poor, the government is planning to lower the price of per kg rice to Tk 10 from current Tk 30 at the open market sale (OMS), said several sources.

Asked, Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum, secretary at the food ministry, however, said they were yet to get any instruction in this regard.

Sarwar Mahmud, director general of the Directorate General of Food, said they had an adequate stock of rice -- around 18 lakh tonnes.

"If the government says, we have our manpower ready to distribute rice among the people," he said.

Only 17.84 percent of the poor people living in towns and cities receive support from the government's social safety schemes, whereas 35.77 percent of the poor people in rural areas get the benefits, according to a World Bank report released last year.

In the meantime, people in need want the government to distribute the relief without any further delay.

"I earned only a few bucks yesterday. There is hardly any passenger on the street," said Md Firoz, a rickshaw puller in the capital.

"What will I eat if things don't change soon?" he asked.


[Our Staff Correspondent Shaheen Mollah contributed to this report]

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