Poor people throng Dhaka streets for relief as shutdown continues

Emran Hossain | Published: 23:56, Apr 24,2020 | Updated: 17:44, Apr 25,2020


Relief-seekers wait on a street island near the National Press Club in Dhaka on Friday as COVID-19 outbreak pushed the poor to streets to receive food from mobile donors beside institutional relief. — Sourav Lasker

The streets of Dhaka are far from wearing the look expected of a city under lockdown when a highly contagious virus continues to ravage most its densely populated areas.

Crowds of people, mostly women and children, thronged many street corners from morning till late evening, looking for food relief or cash to get something to eat.

There were others who gathered outside apartment buildings in many areas of the city trying to draw attention of the residents inside whose help they sought in a clear display of the desperation of the situation.

‘Please share with me some of what you have. I have been hungry and have been waiting here since morning,’ said Nahar, a middle-aged woman, whose appeal did not echo the usual tone of begging. She waited outside an apartment building at AlirMor, Uttar Badda on Friday, in the hope of getting some food.

Like Nahar there were many others who in groups frequented busy city streets such as Swadhinata Sarani, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan Link Road, Maghbazar, Mohakhali and Farmgate almost every day for help.

The women are mostly mothers who have mouths to feed back at home since the coronavirus crisis stripped their families of their means of income.

Their family members mostly worked in exchange for daily wage.

With the entire family sitting idle at home for nearly a month, the women now wait around city corners where affluent people occasionally visit with help.

But, Thursday was rather disheartening for Rehana, a middle-aged former domestic worker who received only Tk 50 on the day at Gulshan-1 circle.

‘After a whole day of begging I don’t have enough to buy rice and potato for my family,’ said Rehana, a mother of three.

As she begged, her four-year-old youngest daughter loitered about the street, half-naked.

Each kilogram of coarse rice now costs Tk 40 and potato Tk 22.

Rehana and the her likes do not have money to go and buy from government’s fair price shops while the sales of subsidised rice at Tk 10 a kg remained suspended.

Over 4 million people live in slums or in slum-like conditions working in informal sector in Dhaka.

Many of them saw what was coming and were seen leaving Dhaka in desperation, often risking their lives, just before the lockdown was imposed.

But many did not have a home to go back to.

Abul Hossain, adviser, National Domestic Women Workers Union, said that half the 2 million domestic workers, who are temporarily employed, turned jobless overnight.

‘The urban poor are the most vulnerable community for they are not covered by any social safety net programs unless they are old or have disabilities,’ said Abul.

The government has announced massive stimulus packages for many sectors, including the Tk 3,000 crore package for low-income professionals but the funds were inaccessible to the urban poor.

Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies director NazmaYesminwarned about the situation going out of control if the urban poor, half the city population, were not protected in the coronavirus emergency.

‘The low-income people are more afraid of dying of hunger than of coronavirus,’ said Nazma.

Many organisations and researchers have urged the government for providing 2 crore families with food and cash for three months.

A BRAC study recently revealed that the income of the urban slum dwellers and rural poor dropped by 80 per cent due to the coronavirus crisis.

Disaster management and relief secretary Shah Kamal said that some people are trying to stockpile despite having enough to eat for they are too scared.

‘We are distributing 800 tonnes rice and Tk 40 lakh in Dhaka city every week door to door,’ he said.

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