Govt to start distributing food among the poor in Dhaka city from Sunday
The government in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus has announced a 10-day general holiday and suspended all public road transports, practically putting the nation into lockdown.
But low-income people can hardly afford to stay at home.
On the first day of the 10-day general holiday on Thursday, many working-class people including day labourers, rickshaw pullers, hawkers, and street vendors in the capital were found coming out at work.
"I do not have enough food and grocery items in stock so that I can afford to stay at home for a certain period of time", said day labourer Din Islam.
Though the general holiday could not confine these everyday wage earners to their home, it has dealt a heavy blow to the earnings of these people.
The roads are deserted because people are not coming out of their homes except for any emergencies out of fear of getting infected with the virus, officially known as Covid-19.
Rickshawpuller Shahidul Islam, who earns at least Tk500 driving a rickshaw for three hours in the city on a normal day, could earn only Tk130 in the period between 9:00am and 12:00 noon on Friday.
"See, today is the first day. Nine more days are left. God knows how I will run my family," said Shahidul who has been driving rickshaw in Dhaka for the last decade.
He has to pay Tk120 as rental cost of a rickshaw a day while he needs Tk180 more to pay for three-time meals every day.
"Every month, I have to send Tk15,000 to 20,000 to my family in Rangpur. If I fail to send the money, the 5-member family will face tremendous hardship," said Shahidul at the Farmgate area.
Another rickshaw-puller, Nazrul Mia said, "For the last couple of days our income has been getting lower. We cannot even earn enough to meet the rental cost of the rickshaw. We do not have the option of not working for a single day."
Many of the daily wage-earners expressed anxiety to The Business Standard as some of them have already become jobless because of the lockdown.
Construction worker Saheb Ali, with five other day-labourers at the Green Road area, said he had been working in a construction site, but that yesterday they were told not to come to work until the lockdown is over.
"My four-member family depends on my income. If I become jobless, we will have to starve," said a worried Saheb Ali.
When asked if any government officials have provided them with cash or food. They said no one had approached them with such support.
Meanwhile, in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced wider social safety-net measures for low-income and homeless people to help them tackle tough times during the coronavirus crisis.
The premier said low-income people will receive government assistance under the "Ghore Fera" (Returning Home) programme in their village homes because many have lost jobs due to the coronavirus.
Besides, the homeless and landless will get free housing, food for six months and some cash, while programmes such as Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding and Tk10 per kg rice sales will be continued.
By the time the Prime Minister addressed the nation, the disaster management ministry had already dispatched 500 tonnes of rice and cash between Tk5lakh and Tk10 lakh to all the district administrations. The prime minister also said free medicine and treatment are being offered to the poor.
Officials at the Dhaka Deputy Commissioner's office said they will begin providing food to vulnerable people in the city from Saturday.
Momin Uddin, additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka told The Business Standard that 39 thousand families live in 73 slum areas in the city.
"We will make a list of the most vulnerable families with the help of local representatives and provide food to them in phases," he said.
"In line with the government instructions, we will give 10 kilograms of rice, 5 kilograms potato and 2 kilograms lentil," Momin added.
Asked for how long they will provide food to the poor, he said that has not been decided as yet.
In the meantime, a non-government organisation named "Youth for Bangladesh" has been distributing food among the poor for 15 days at several spots in the city.
Faruk Hossen, general sectary of the organisation said, "If low-income people get affected with and spread Covid-19 at a high rate, it will have disastrous consequences for everyone. This is why we are giving them food support so that they can stay at homes for at least 14 days."
Binayak Sen, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said, "10 to 15 percent of the total population of the country lives below the poverty line, and that it is hard for them to maintain safety and stay home for a period of time.
Therefore, the government should take an emergency social protection measure for those people providing them with at least Tk1,000 per month during the lockdown, he added.