IT IS worrying that the government has not yet taken any plans when many governments around the world have taken up elaborate relief programmes for the poor, hit hard by the coronavirus infection and its threat. The finance ministry on Sunday said that the government was planning to provide subsidised food for the urban poor, but it did not, as New Age reported on Monday, outline how and when the government would begin implementing the plans. From the very beginning of the coronavirus outbreak which began in China in December 2019 and has gradually spread to almost all countries, killing more than 15,000 people, the government appears to have delayed each of its preparedness steps to fight any outbreak in Bangladesh. The measures taken so far by the government such as closure of all educational institutions, a mandatory quarantine for all entering Bangladesh and a partial lockdown of the capital should have been taken earlier to stop any outbreak. It appears that the government is going to make similar delay in taking programmes to help the poor.
The poor, especially the urban poor many of whom live in extreme poverty, would be, or have in fact already been, hit hard by slowdown in business activities and by the partial lockdown as they face a lack of jobs and find it difficult to meet the ends. The urban poor are also faced with a decline in their purchasing power as stockpiling and panic-buying have triggered a price increase. Tens of thousands of the urban poor, living in cities and towns, are reported not to get any state support in their access to basic amenities such as water, sanitation, education and health care as the local government and rural development minister admitted in a recent seminar. In case of any prolonged lockdown or slowdown in business and other activities, the urban poor would need the government support most. Recognising the vulnerability of the poor, both urban and rural, many countries have taken effective programmes. Large-scale relief programmes are reported to have already been taken in many areas in neighbouring countries. The government should urgently take up such relief plans to help the poor to lead their lives at least by meeting their minimum needs in the time of coronavirus outbreak that has made them helpless.
The government must, under the circumstances, take immediate and effective relief programmes to help the urban and rural poor. The government and its agencies concerned must also ensure that reliefs, in whatever form it is, reach the poor and others who need such help. In times of emergency situations like this, the government, its agencies and the well-off must stand beside the poor.