Families leaving Dhaka as coronavirus crisis hits livelihood

Rashad Ahamad | Published: 00:40, Jun 27,2020


A private university student at Tejgaon, left, whose life has become paralysed due to the coronavirus situation, and a garment worker, after losing his job at Gazipur, leave for their rural homes on Friday. — Focus Bangla photo and Sourav Lasker

Many city dwellers belonging to the lower-income group in the capital have started to leave Dhaka for village homes as the COVID-19 epidemic has either shrank their income and caused loss of livelihood.

Numerous advertisements for house rents were seen in all parts of the city, particularly in the areas where low-income and lower-middle-income groups of people used to live, and in online platforms as tenants were migrating back home amid the risk of COVID-19 proliferation.

Many said they could not afford house rents any more in the lingering coronavirus crisis that badly affected their income.

Thousands of people left the city just before Eid-ul-Fitr and the outflux has continued since then.

Varatia Parishad president Baharane Sultan Bahar assumes that over 50,000 families have already left Dhaka while many others are waiting to leave. ‘A greater portion of the people who are now opting out has been living in Dhaka for decades,’ he observed.

He said that many lower-income people were also forced to sell their furniture to pay house rent before leaving the city.

Bahar said that a writ petition demanding house rent waiver would be filed soon as their demand for a three-month house rent waiver was denied.

‘Dhaka’s house rent is abnormally very high and most of the tenants spend more than half of their income paying rents,’ said Akter Mahmud, president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners and also Jahangirnagar University urban planning professor.

He said that the exorbitant house rent was a burden for residents even when they had regular income but it became impossible to continue when COVID-19 reduced or stopped their income.

Bangladesh identified first COVID-19 patient on March 8 but in April it hit people’s income hard as the nationwide shutdown began on March 26 and continued till May 30 in a bid to contain the pandemic.

The offices and businesses were allowed to run under some restrictions after May 31.

Garment worker Anwar Hossain, who had been living in Dhaka’s Nakhalpara for the past 14 years, finally left Dhaka on June 19 as his factory cut his wage due to the COVID-19 crisis.

‘It is impossible for me to continue life in Dhaka after my wage cut as house rent eats up 60 per cent of my income,’ he told New Age.

Anwar has no plan to come back to Dhaka ever as he thought that he failed do anything for his family as well as for himself in the past 14 years.

BRAC Institute of Governance and Development and Power and Participation Research Centre in a recent survey found that 71 per cent people of the informal sector became jobless due to the shutdown enforced to curb the pandemic.

The income of people who could barely work during the closure has dropped by 50–90 per cent, forcing them to cut costs, according to the survey.

It stated that nearly 98 per cent people could afford three meals a day before the shutdown. Now, the shutdown has dragged that number down to 73 per cent.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimated that 2.28 million garment workers in Bangladesh — the world’s second-largest clothing manufacturer after China — might lose their jobs as work order of $3.18 billion has already cancelled.

BILS in the presentation quoting different studies said that 90 per cent of 1.5 million hotel and restaurant workers and 3.32 million construction workers of the country lost their income due to COVID-19.

Beside, of that 55 per cent of 4.40 million transport workers, 57 per cent of 2.70 million domestic workers and 61 per cent of 10 million day labours lost their income.

General officer of a private company Ashraful Islam who has been living in Mirpur in the capital, finally had to leave the city along with 12 of colleagues as the company terminated them due to the COVID-19-induced business slump.

‘My house house rent is Tk 25,000 but I have no income now,’ he said, adding that he left Dhaka at the beginning of the month.

He said that accept for his kids’ schooling, he would live well in his village.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the population of Dhaka was 68 lakh in 1991. From then, the city population kept surging. The UN World Urbanisation Prospectus 2018 said Dhaka’s population surpassed 1.70 crore.

Dhaka city corporation officials said that over five lakhs holdings were in Dhaka where over two crore people live and over 90 per cent of them tenants.

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