Its convener Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said the government’s Tk73,000 crore bailout packages were “very important” in tackling the crisis, but were inadequate as the poor would not benefit much from them
The Citizen's Platform for Sustainable Development Goals, Bangladesh says 40 of its affiliate organisations are ready to execute about Tk600 crore assistance programmes in addition to the government's stimulus packages to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
Its convener Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya told an online press briefing on Saturday that over a hundred organisations associated with the platform are working in many different ways to handle the crisis.
He called on the government to take effective measures so that no one faced a food shortage during the ongoing lockdown.
The government's relief goods are not reaching marginalised groups, including the homeless, minorities, disabled, transgenders, Dalits, fishermen and Bede, said the public policy analyst.
He also said people living in inaccessible areas, such as the hills, coastal areas, haors (wetlands) and chars (river islands), were excluded from the relief programmes.
"The government should make sure that no one starves to death because of their geographical location and social status."
Debapriya said the government's Tk73,000 crore bailout packages were "very important" in tackling the crisis, but were inadequate.
This is because the poor will not benefit much from them, explained the noted economist.
He added that the common people were not aware of the relief packages and that the level of awareness should be raised further.
"People also have a lack of information on the government's food and financial aid schemes, as well as on how to withdraw cash assistance sent to their banks and mobile phones," he pointed out.
He called on the government to take help from his platform's associate organisations to make people more aware of these programmes.
"In many areas, those distributing relief are asking for national identity cards, something the homeless people do not have. This is how slum dwellers as well as homeless groups are being deprived of relief," Debapriya said.
He said the government could also take the help of non-government organisations working with homeless and handicapped people, if necessary.
Quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing are very important, but these have made earning a livelihood a challenge for the poor, the public policy analyst noted.
Those living from hand to mouth and the low-income groups are now in trouble, he said.
Speaking about job cuts, Debapriya said many factories had initiated retrenchment, and those workers were living a miserable life after their earning source had collapsed.
"Many of them are starving while some are living off their savings. The authorities need to ensure that the masses do not slide into more poverty or debt once the lockdown is lifted," he said.
The transportation shutdown has left the supply chain of agricultural produce in tatters, said Debapriya.
He said field-level producers were not getting a fair price and were losing capital. He also called on the authorities to take special measures to ensure transportation of vegetables from remote areas of the country.
Debapriya believes economic recovery would be very difficult as loan disbursement has come to a halt.
"Suspending instalment payment of small loans in the wake of the pandemic has relieved the poor, but credit disbursement remains halted.
"We need to ensure cash flow if we want small schemes, such as buying rawhides during Eid, to continue," he explained.
Debapriya also talked about domestic violence, saying that this has increased in the present situation. He suggested that the women and children affairs ministry as well as the social welfare ministry should take prompt measures in this regard.
More poor children are dropping out of school while child marriage and pregnancy during puberty are also increasing, he said.
"Malnutrition is on the rise because of the shortage of food. The situation will deteriorate if food security is at risk. Also, there is a greater risk of youngsters turning to substance abuse and terrorism during the lockdown," added Debapriya.
He called for increasing social audit to strictly monitor where the government's financial assistance was ending up.
"The government is disbursing money, but it should also be interested in checking whether the assistance is actually reaching the people. We will try to form such a structure from our platform and investigate this issue to later inform the government in addition to helping with relief distribution," said Debapriya.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, told the briefing that Bangladeshi expatriates remained virtually ostracised after returning from abroad, and were being socially neglected in many places.
The government should ensure a common system for all returnees, she said.
"General patients are not getting medical care at present. Doctors and nurses are being forced to move out. The government should take quick measures regarding this," said Shaheen.
A former adviser to a caretaker government Dr Rasheda K Choudhury said special attention should be paid to the safety and healthcare of cleaning workers.
Mentioning that private organisations were taking big initiatives to continue education, she said such initiatives should be coordinated.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the CPD had recommended giving Tk8,000 to 1.70 crore families each per month as assistance.
Non-government organisations are also running assistance programmes in addition to that, he said.
Mustafizur said non-government organisations not having microcredit programmes were always in a cash crunch. "The government should provide some assistance to such organisations."
The economist called on the NGO Affairs Bureau to expedite approval for projects under which many non-government organisations were planning to bring-in foreign aid.