THE COVID-19 outbreak and the consequent economic slowdown have affected the livelihood of the majority of people, with their purchasing capacity having sharply declined during more than two month’s general holiday ordered to contain the spread of COVID-19. The earning of low-income groups is reported to have been halved during the holiday. In such a situation, high goods prices further effect people’s expenditure. Prices of food items considered staple in low-income households have yet again increased. All vegetables were selling for prices higher than they sold for the week before and chilli prices have doubled. All sources of protein such as eggs, red lentil and fish sold for prices beyond the reach of the poor. The fine variety of red lentil sold for Tk 120–125 a kilogram and four eggs sold for Tk 32–36 on Friday. Hybrid varieties of fish, common source of fish protein for the poor, sold for Tk 130–180 a kilogram. The persistent price instability in the kitchen market may largely influence people’s nutritional status in a time when people are already battling other health risks.
This is not for the first time, during the COVID-19 outbreak, that prices of everyday food items sharply increased. In fact, since the beginning of the outbreak, because of the hoarding behaviour of well-to-do consumers, prices of staple food items remained unstable. It seems that the traders always have readily available grounds to increase the price of food items. In May, prices of red lentil, aubergines and other items more in demand in Ramadan increased. Later in June, as the budget proposal was made, the kitchen market became unstable again. At the time, prices of most of vegetables and broiler chicken increased by Tk 20 a kilogram in a week. Now traders try to justify the increased prices saying that flash flood and heavy rainfall have disrupted the supply. The seasonal flood and rainfall are annual events and they should not be treated as factors influencing supply and demand. It is unacceptable that unscrupulous traders use predictable events to justify price instability while the regulatory authorities remain unwilling to make any intervention.
Despite promises from all the authorities concerned, the price control mechanism does not seem to serve its intended purpose. The government’s market intervention is limited to running open market sales programmes, which too are now not properly done for fear of large gatherings that could add to the COVID-19 spread. It is time that the government realised that price stability is ever more important in the economy hit by COVID-19 in which people’s purchasing capacity steadily declines. It must immediately intervene into the market to keep prices of everyday food items stable so that people’s nutritional status is not impacted.
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