The list of beneficiaries can be prepared with the help of local public representatives, but the aid money should be distributed through bKash or Nagad, said economist Zahid Hussain
The government has been carrying out programmes to give food and cash aid to poor and low-income people who are not covered under the social safety net. But the nationwide list of beneficiaries has not been finalised yet.
Based on primary lists made by respective local administrations, the government has been distributing 10kg rice to each family affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
At the same time, those families are also getting oil, soap, salt, potatoes and lentils instead of cash money.
Meanwhile, some complained that they did not get the government aid due to the lack of a final list. Local administrations, however, claimed that they took instant steps after getting a complaint.
To get a detailed account of the government's aid programmes, 20 district correspondents of The Business Standard talked to local administrations in different areas. The local administrations said the list would be finanlised within a few days.
The government declared general holidays to ensure social distancing in order to curb the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, a large number of people in both rural and urban areas, who run families on a daily income, have became jobless.
The lives and livelihood of these low-income people were seriously hampered as they were out of the government's social safety net programmes.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the authorities concerned to prepare a list of these jobless people and provide them with relief goods.
After that, the disaster management and relief ministry sent a letter to the deputy commissioners of all 64 districts, asking them to implement the prime minister's directive in their respective areas.
The letter also asked them to synchronise their lists with those prepared by local wealthy people, associations and non-government organisations to avoid duality of beneficiaries and to ensure aid for all the jobless.
The distribution of relief began across the country on March 26.
Our northern Bangladesh bureau chief informed us that many families in Bogura were suffering a food shortage, although aid had been given to 28,100 families there.
Relief and Rehabilitation Officer Md Azhar Ali Mondol said they had a further 387.5 tonnes of rice and Tk13 lakh in cash for distribution. "We will distribute it once the final list is prepared."
In Bogura, union parishad chairmen and members were preparing the lists under the supervision of a government official.
Shahjahanpur upazila Chairman Md Sohrab Hossain Sannu said many had not received the relief because of a shortage against the real demand.
In Rangpur, the people under social safety net programmes received the government's relief goods while those affected due to the coronavirus got aid from private sources.
Deputy Commissioner Ashik Ahsan said the list of recipients will be finalised within 4-5 days. "We will begin the distribution programme after checking the list."
In Chattogram, 15,000 more people beyond the 17,500 under the social safety net got government aid. Another list of 10,000 more was also prepared.
District Relief and Rehabilitation Officer Sajib Kumar Chakrabarty said the final list would be available within a week.
Meanwhile, more than one hundred people in Dumuria of Khulna demonstrated before the residence of the upazila nirbahi officer demanding relief. Later, the local assistant commissioner (land) went to the spot and brought the situation under control.
Rizia Begum, a demonstrator, said they had been starving for the last two days. "We went to the UNO's office but did not find him there. So, we have come to his residence."
Some others echoed Rizia. Later, all of the demonstrators were given government relief.
Khulna District Relief and Rehabilitation Officer Azizul Haque Joardar said they distributed 200 tonnes of rice among 20,000 families in the district.
Ali Akbar Tipu, panel mayor (2) of Khulna City Corporation and councillor from ward-25, said at least 30,000 poor people in the area needed aid. "But the aid is insufficient."
Jashore Deputy Commissioner Md Shafiul Arif said they had been preparing the list of the poor in the district.
Satkhira Deputy Commissioner SM Mostofa Kamal said government aid had been delivered to 10,000 families as of yesterday. "After we get the lists from the upazila levels, we will resume relief distribution programmes."
Chuadanga Deputy Commissioner Nazrul Islam Sarkar said 20,800 people of the district got 10kg rice per head while 2,717 got other commodities instead of cash.
According to the Brahmanbaria administration, 372 families in nine upazilas received aid. Meanwhile, 35,000 families in Netrakona and 6,900 families in Barishal also got the same.
In Moulvibazar, 200 tonnes of rice have already been distributed, with each family getting 10kg rice and Tk100 in cash. The Sylhet administration has prepared a list of 65,000 families.
Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Jasim Uddin said the list of recipients is not ready yet. "But the relief distribution programme is on under the supervision of UNOs and the city corporation."
"Actually, it is difficult to prepare the list in such a short a time. Nevertheless, local administrations are distributing aid in cooperation with local public representatives," said Dr Enamur Rahman, state minister for the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
"We believe the aid programmes can be carried on smoothly once the list is finalised," he also said.
The junior minister said that the aid programmes would be continued as the general holidays had been extended further. "We will release more assistance – rice and cash – on March 2, 4 and 6 to relieve their their problems."
Zahid Hussain, former chief economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, said local public representatives know better than anyone who has really been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The list can be prepared with their help. But the aid money should be distributed through bKash or Nagad," he said.
He believed that giving food assistance, instead of cash, was more challenging as the number of beneficiaries was bigger.
"Instant measures should be taken to keep the aid programmes free from corruption. The prime minister has already declared it," the economist said.