Professor Rehman Sobhan said flood management problems had been identified in Bangladesh earlier, but a comprehensive system to handle the disaster is still absent
Rising food prices is a new concern for the flood-affected people amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new research by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
More than two crore families in the country have lost their income due to the pandemic. On the other hand, ongoing floods in 33 districts have caused about 50 lakh people to lose their earnings.
As relief distribution by the government during both disasters is lower than required, the people are bound to depend on purchased food, but increase in food prices has become a new concern, the research said.
The research findings published on Wednesday said price of fine rice had increased by 8.74 percent in August, and that of coarse rice went up by 18.06 percent, compared to the same month of the previous year.
After analysing the drop in the government's food stock, rising food prices and projected loss in Aman yield in the upcoming season, experts recommended that the government should import food grains in order to face any possible food crisis and to ensure fair prices in the market.
CPD Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan presided over the event while Dr Md Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, was the chief guest.
Professor Sobhan said flood management problems had been identified in Bangladesh earlier, but a comprehensive system to handle the disaster is still absent.
He said the government should introduce a proper working plan with neighbouring countries.
"The Joint Rivers Commission is not working properly," he added.
Md Kamruzzaman, senior research associate of the CPD, presented the keynote.
He said ongoing floods had damaged crops and livestock worth Tk990.25 crore ($116.5 million).
"Floods have affected 1,065 unions in 162 upazilas of 33 districts. The damage has not exceeded previous floods, but it reminds us of the floods in 2004 and 2007 because it has been persisting for 35 days."
The report expressed concern over increase in food prices at a time when many farmers had already sold their produces by the time the government procurement drive began in their areas.
This is putting some marginalised groups at high risk, including the new poor emerged in the wake of the pandemic, the report said.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the CPD, said access to relief and its amount for the flood-affected people is very poor.
"No doubt, it should be increased."
He said increase in food prices may have an adverse impact as floods struck during the Covid-19 crisis.
The economist recommended taking initiatives to import rice, protecting the interests of both producers and consumers.
"Poor and vulnerable groups will face difficulties if prices continue to rise at a time when their earnings had been affected by the pandemic," he added.
Government's food stock drops
The report expressed concern over the government's food grain stock dropping from previous year's 15 lakh tonnes to 10 lakh tonnes.
It said the government had targeted to procure eight lakh tonnes of paddy, 10 lakh tonnes of parboiled rice and 1.5 lakh tonnes of non-boiled rice.
However, Boro procurement has been very low in this season as the government has been able to procure only 22 percent of Boro paddy and 45 percent of Boro rice.
Agriculture recovery aid very little
The government is using only a small share of its budgetary allocation of Tk300 crore to restore the damage done by floods in agriculture, said the report.
Also, the government announced Tk10.26 crore (3.4 percent of total budget) for free distribution of seeds of leafy and other vegetable among the affected small and marginal farmers.
A total of 1.52 lakh farmers received support of Tk677 each in this regard.
The government is distributing only 0.2 percent of the allocation made for distribution of Aman seed (Nabi variety) among farmers.
Kamruzzaman said 12,818 tonnes of rice had been distributed as relief from an allocation of 19,510 tonnes.
"Per capita relief has amounted to 1.3 kilogrammes of rice, on average, against the entitlement of 2.5 kilogrammes; while the remaining 6,692 tonnes will be distributed among the same number of people," he added.
He said Tk4.27 crore had been allocated to assist the afflicted people, while the per capita entitlement is only Tk5.7.
"Only 54 percent of the affected households can be covered by the current disbursement of rice considering 46.2 kilogrammes of rice are needed to support a family for 30 days."
The report found a shortage of another 11,128 tonnes of rice to cover the rest of the afflicted households.
It found that the current allocation of cash relief is sufficient for only two percent of families and recommended an allocation of another Tk117 crore to cover support for the remaining 98 percent.
The report said there were some anomalies in relief distribution. For example, some poor districts that were highly affected received less relief whereas some rich districts that were affected to a small extent got more relief.
Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, said at the event that relief had been sent in advance to districts as per their demand and there should not be any shortages.
He added that the government has plans to set up lightning arresters across the country to protect people from lightning strikes.
Dr Ainun Nishat, professor emeritus at Brac University, said it is projected that waterlogging would persist until the end of August. "The harvest of Aman will drop by 20 percent if seeds are sown in September."
Media activist Shykh Seraj said global warming has increased, and that at a higher rate in this region.
That is why floods will further increase in the Himalayan area in the coming years, he said.
Rasheda K Chowdhury, co-founder of Global Campaign for Education, said about 300 schools are disappearing due to river erosion.
"Why are schools being established in the disaster-prone areas?" she asked, recommending relocating the institutions from risky land.