Lockdown in Dhaka’s Bordering Districts: Most don’t have plan for relief
As Dhaka's bordering districts clamp down on people and businesses to protect the capital city, an age-old question arises: lives or livelihoods?
None of the district administrations has any concrete plan in place to find out how many will be left without income during this period, and few have relief distribution activities planned out.
Among the districts where curbs were put in place, Manikganj has a vast number of poor. As much as 60 percent of the district's population live below the poverty line, according to a poverty map created by the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) over November and December last year.
The poverty line for rural areas in the Dhaka division is estimated to be a monthly per capita income of Tk 2,152, while in urban areas, it is Tk 2,657.
Yet this is one district with no concrete plan in place regarding doling out relief during this period when all economic activities and public movement have come to a halt, leaving thousands of daily wage earners without an income.
"Currently anyone can reach us via the national hotline number 333 and we will go to them with relief," said Md Abdul Latif, the district commissioner of Manikganj.
Between 41-45 percent of Gazipur's population existed below the poverty line, according to SANEM, but the district has not taken any initiatives for relief distribution during the ongoing lockdown.
"We have not received any new instructions to distribute relief. If we get the instructions, we will comply. A certain income category of people get relief and we have lists from previous relief distribution activities, which we will update if we get the instructions," said Gazipur's additional district commissioner Mamun Sardar.
Similarly, Rahima Khatun, the district commissioner of Madaripur, said the district does not have a specific distribution plan but that anyone can get relief by calling the 333 hotline.
About a third of Madaripur existed below the poverty line last year, according to SANEM.
Similarly, SANEM's poverty map said that 51-55 percent of the population of Munshiganj existed below the poverty line.
Abdul Kuddus Bulbul, the district relief and rehabilitation officer, said there have been no special allocation for the lockdown.
The old allocations are still being distributed.
A few weeks ago, the district got funds for helping 34,000 in its 68 unions and the local chairpersons will soon begin distribution, Bulbul said, adding that he could not however say when that will be.
Munshiganj has no list of poor people, while Rajbari is adopting a similar strategy.
Mahabubur Rahman Sheikh, the additional district commissioner-general of Rajbari, said last week they gave all the unions Tk 1 lakh each.
"This is coming every two or three months. We do not have a cohesive list of poor people but we are trying to identify the poor through union committees," Sheikh said.
Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, criticised the method of distributing an equal lump sum in relief for all unions.
The think-tank had surveyed 2,600 households across the nation and found that only a fourth of the poorest quartile group had received relief.
"They have a certain amount of resource and they distribute it equally. This is not need-based."
There is a data deficit since the districts do not know who the poor are and where they live, Rahman said, adding that the only exception is Gopalganj.
Gopalganj has a poverty rate of 46-50 percent, according to SANEM.
Iliasur Rahman, the ADC general of Gopalganj, said Gopalganj is the only district to make a list of all the families.
"We even know their income. This list was prepared in March, and it is being continuously updated. We target the ultra-poor by default. Otherwise, if someone knocks us for relief, we will give it to them. They can contact the local representative."
He said they have enough relief; its 67 unions are receiving Tk 67 lakh worth of relief.
"Our relief activities are ongoing since Gopalganj has had restrictions for a week by now."
(Our Manikganj, Munshiganj, Gazipur and Narayanganj correspondents contributed to this report)