National budget must have equal focus on life, livelihood

Published: 00:00, Jun 03,2020


THE government, apparently having no other easy option but to reopen almost everything on a limited scale with an order for adherence to health safety protocols, has eased the restrictions that came with general holiday, ordered as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 outbreak, to revive the economy on the grounds that livelihood has been at stake. In a situation like this, a survey, conducted by BRAC, Data Sense and Unnayan Shamannay in February–May, has found 92.2 million of the 163 million people of Bangladesh to be at high economic risks and 82.6 million people at high health risks because of the COVID-19 outbreak. And experts attending the online press conference, where the survey findings were made public on Monday, have called for an equal focus on life and livelihood, saying that the both should go together. The survey says that more than 1.4 million migrant workers have lost their job in the period of the pandemic and they either have returned home or are on their way back home jobless. About 35 per cent of the households surveyed have also reported at least one member having lost job as the outbreak has severely affected low-income people.

While the poorest of them are affected most in terms of income and health, 34 million non-poor, as the survey finds, have also been at high economic risks. The survey also suggests that the base of the pyramid, which refers to the poorest two-thirds, is at a higher risk of contracting the disease, which has, as of June 2, left 52,445 people infected in Bangladesh since the first detection on March 8 and 709 of them dead since the first case on March 18. The survey report, in such a situation, has come up with some recommendations, which include cash transfer for COVID-19 patients because of the income losses caused by the outbreak and a cash support for three years for the extreme poor and poor households in cases of the death of earners in the family caused by the disease. In view of the joblessness, the introduction of a universal unemployment benefits scheme has also been recommended. The report has suggested a mix of work-from-home and work-in-office, with six work-hours a day in up to three shifts in offices and factories to contain health risks. Along with all this, experts have suggested that the health sector should be a priority agenda of the government in the formulation of the national budget for the 2021 financial year, with expanded social safety net for the new and urban poor and a significant focus on small and medium enterprises as about three-fifths of them could drop out of business because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The government must, in such a situation, not consider life and livelihood separately and attach priority to health as the economy has no value without life. With the economy having been dealt with a blow and more than a half of the population having been at high economic and health risks, the government must consider the budget for the next financial year to be a budget of survival and make more allocations in view of both life and livelihood.

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