FINDINGS of a private survey report that 24.5 million people, accounting for 14.75 per cent of the total population, have slipped into poverty because of the fallout of the Covid outbreak, persisting for more than a year now, are alarming. The findings of the survey, Poverty Dynamics and Household Realities, the third phase of which was conducted in April 2020–March 2021 by the Power and Participation Research Centre and the BRAC Institute of Governments and Development, say that extreme poverty rate has also increased, savings have dwindled and debt has almost doubled in all groups. What makes it further worrying is that there have already been 34.23 million people, accounting for 20.5 per cent of the total population as the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics put it in 2019, in poverty. The findings of the third-round survey, conducted on 6,099 rural and urban slum households across the country in March 2021, also say that there have, however, been some recovery in June 2020–March 2021, but the national estimate of the new poor still stands at 14.75 per cent as of March 2021 and the new poor phenomenon is more prevalent in urban areas. The new poor in June 2020 constituted 21.2 per cent of the total population.
The extreme poverty rate is also reported to have increased by 4 per cent since Covid-19 broke out in Bangladesh in March 2020. Per capita income in March 2021 is still 7 per cent below the pre-Covid level of February 2020 and income is still below the pre-Covid level for all occupations but for people engaged in agriculture. While all this happened, the number of bank accounts with more than Tk 10 million in deposit increased, as Bangladesh Bank data show, taking the number of such accounts to 93,839 in December 2020, by registering an increase of 10,051 from 83,839 in December 2019. The surge in wealth accumulation by a small segment of people took place at a time when a large portion of the people struggled for sustenance and many of them slipped into poverty in the duration of the Covid outbreak. While people slipped into poverty during the Covid outbreak as the government failed to put in place specific measures side by side the existing safety net programmes for the urban and the new poor, the number of bank accounts with more than Tk 10 million in deposit sharply increased for lack of good governance and the government’s policy favouring the rich. The government should also provide people with work as the outbreak of the disease has left many without jobs since June 2020 and pushed many to take up jobs that require skills lower than such people have.
The government must, in such a situation, consider smart restrictions taking both health and economy high on agenda. The government must in the short run roll out aid in food and cash and draw up and implement economic recovery action plans. The government must also review its policy to stop the poor from becoming poorer by affording them the required support.
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