Increasing demand for staples for refugees and NGO workers pushing up living costs
The government's declaration of Cox's Bazar district as an "expensive city" will intensify the woes of locals.
The lower-middle and lower class private-sector employees at the tourist town would feel the squeeze as their income did not increase proportionately, said locals.
Many people at the popular tourist destination had to compromise their properties in 2017 for sheltering the refugees from Myanmar, said Noor Mohammad Sikder, a local leader of Rohingya Repatriation Council.
Hundreds of non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers including many foreigners flocked to Cox's Bazar, Ukhiya and Teknaf followed by the Rohingya influx in that year.
The increasing demand for staples for refugees and NGO workers pushed up living costs, including housing and essentials, said Sikder.
Though the influx turned into a blessing for the educated local youths who managed jobs at the NGOs and INGOs, he said, it pushed the uneducated, lower-middle and lower class to the edge.
Prices of essentials and housing have been rising many times over since the south-eastern district is hosting more than one million refugees. The cost of living made both government and non-government employees suffer immensely.
And the government on Tuesday declared Cox's Bazar an "expensive city", allowing officials working in the tourist town to receive allowances on the same scale as the metropolitan areas.
Once the government includes a city corporation or a municipality on its list of expensive cities or towns, the public officers and employees working there receive some allowances at a higher rate.
The announcement is expected to ease the pressure on the government employees. But locals fear that tough days are ahead of them.
Shahnewaz, a private bank official at Cox's Bazar town, moved to a new apartment recently as his former landlord issued notice to hike house rent for the fourth time in a year. "Hiked house rents and essentials are making us sweat."
Meantime, another Cox's Bazar dweller Rassel Chowdhury said, "It is merely impossible to live here unless you are an NGO employee or a government staff."
Rassel has been living in Cox's Bazar since the 90s. He said things started to change rapidly after 2017. A medium-size flat with a maximum rent of Tk3,000 rose to Tk15,000 as demand for housing skyrocketed owing to the rush of NGOs to the district.
He said, "We had been requesting the landlords not to increase house rents. However, they certainly will hike it this time following the government announcement."
Meantime, locals who have houses at Cox's Bazar said that they experienced other issues.
Riad Iftekhar, who works at a hotel and lives at his residence in Cox's Bazar's Bahar Chara, was frustrated over doubled prices of foods and commodities. "If potatoes are sold at Tk8-10 per kilo at the field, it becomes Tk30 here. A single banana even cost Tk10. Transportations cost, including rickshaw fare, more than doubled. But our income did not increase in line with that."
According to sources, Cox's Bazar district authorities sent a letter to the cabinet division in 2017 demanding perks for government officials.
Moreover, Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain raised the issue at the annual conference of the deputy commissioners in 2019. "Prices of essentials and other things had gone up manifold in recent years. So, I proposed to announce Cox's Bazar as an expensive town."
In July 2019, Mymensingh was declared an expensive city after Narayanganj, Gazipur and Savar were given the status in 2013.
Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet, Rangpur are the other expensive cities.