Tariq Bin Yousuf, chief urban planner of Dhaka North, coordinating relief operations said they can meet only 40 percent of the demand
On Sunday night, middle-aged Fatema Begum was sitting with a flask of tea and a tray of cigarettes on the footpath in Hatirjheel.
But there were no sales as most people were staying indoors amid the nationwide shutdown. Unlike her customers, though, Fatema could not afford that luxury.
Hunger had forced her to venture outdoors in the hopes of doing some business so that she could get food for her child.
Fatema said no relief had reached her, or the 80 other residents of Tular Mia slum under Ward 35, since the shutdown began on March 26. Over a month into the shutdown, she has so far received just a package of 3kg rice and 2kg potato from a local person distributing relief on his own.
In another slum under the same ward, 35-year-old house help Parul Begum might consider herself luckier than Fatema. She once received 4kg rice and 2kg potatoes from the police, but no other official relief from the government.
All 16 of the families that live alongside hers at the Peyarabag Railway slum in Moghbazar were left high and dry with only the promise of relief.
For these people the wait is unlikely to end any time soon as relief allocation for Dhaka North is about 60 percent short of the demand.
The city corporations are handling the relief distributions in Dhaka city and the Dhaka North City Corporation received a relief demand for six lakh people from ward commissioners. However, it could distribute only 1,150 tonnes of rice from April 9 to April 30 – barely enough for 2.40 lakh people.
That means 60 percent of the underprivileged residents of Dhaka North did not get anything.
Shah Alam, a rickshaw puller currently living at the Islambag Government Primary School in Mirpur, said, "I have received relief twice in the last one month – once 30kg rice with potato and lentils from the government, and once 10kg from an NGO."
Seven other families living in that school said the same.
"We were also provided with cooked meals for two or three days last month," said Rubel, another resident of the camp.
Others, however, have not been so fortunate.
Al Amin, a slum dweller in Mirpur 11, said he had received nothing.
Part-time housemaid Asma Aktar lives in Kallyanpur with her husband, a house painter, and a two-year-old child.
Since March 25, both of them have had no work and no income. She only received 2kgs of flour from the police one day.
"Although many families got relief more than once, 12 other neighbours and I did not get any packets," said Asma. Many others in the Kallyanpur slum said they did not get sufficient relief during this crisis.
Locals said relief was distributed thrice in the slum – once by local MP Aslamul Haque, once by the Dhaka North City Corporation, and then by the police.
"The MP, the mayor and the police have distributed relief to us. Some NGOs have also helped us. But there is a lack of coordination, which is why some were deprived," said local ward councillor Dewan Abdul Mannan.
Abu Bakar, resident of a slum in Uttara 5, said, "20 families received aid from a social worker, but we got no help from the government or any NGOs."
Tariq Bin Yousuf, chief urban planner of Dhaka North, is coordinating relief operations in the region. He said they can meet only 40 percent of the demand submitted by the ward councillors.
Md Abdul Hai, chief executive officer of Dhaka North, said, "The distribution is inadequate because even if the whole country is given food, Bangalis have a tendency to say it is not adequate.
"Sometimes one person is getting relief four or five times, but they are still claiming they did not get anything," he added.
The stories of Fatema and Parul say otherwise. Local commissioners listed the names of some families who were voters, but even then, they did not get any aid till May 3. Parul could not get her name included on the distribution list as she was not a voter.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka South City Corporation received 1,075 metric tonnes of rice from the relief ministry till April 30.
Md Mostafa Kamal Mazumder, joint secretary of Dhaka South City Corporation, said this could serve 2.15 lakh people, but they had received a relief demand for 4.14 lakh people from the ward councillors.
To see how there is a gap between relief allocation and distribution, we can take Ward 35 of Dhaka North as an example. Data shows that the ward councillor received around 11 tonnes of rice till April 30. With this amount, the councillor was able to serve 2,260 people.
When contacted, Councillor Muktar Sardar said his ward was one of the most densely populated ones with about 10 lakh people.
Every day, he receives demand for relief from around 10,000 people.
What does the relief ministry say?
When contacted, Md Shah Kamal, senior secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said not all poor people will get relief because of limited resources.
He said poor people who are already receiving facilities under social safety net programmes such as the Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding, food programme for fishermen, OMS (Open Market Sale), etc., will not receive any relief from the current programme.
However, none of these social safety net programmes except OMS are for Dhaka city. Food under VGF, VGD and other programmes are distributed at the union levels outside the city.
But Kamal claimed that the list of the six lakh poor given by ward councillors of Dhaka North include people getting facilities under these social safety net programmes.
To avoid double dipping, the ministry has decided to provide relief to only 50 lakh people across the country through digital relief cards. The new programme will start from May, under which each family will get 20kgs of rice for a month.
Of the 50 lakh eligible persons, two lakh persons from both Dhaka city corporations will come under this relief programme, the senior secretary added.