Save life or livelihood is a million-dollar question facing the policymakers now
According to the latest update, the Covid-19 infected around 1.42 crore and killed 59.9 lakh people around the world. Till now the most infected regions are the Americas, Europe, Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia. Top infected countries are the USA, Brazil, India, Russia, Peru and Chile.
The virus stopped all means of transportations inside the countries and internationally. As a result, the global supply chain has been disrupted severely for the first time after the Second World War. It is also leading the world leaders towards new protectionism, which will hit international trade hard.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) forecasted that the global trade will fall up to 32 percent in 2020 due to Covid-19. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global GDP growth will reduce 4.2 percent in 2020 while WTO forecasted an 8.8 percent reduction. According to these two world bodies, global trade and investment will shrink by 9 percent and 32 percent respectively in 2020 due to Covid-19.
Most importantly, the IMF projected that 70 million people will go below the extreme poverty line while other private think tanks are forecasting that this figure will be 420 million around the globe.
According to government statistics, Covid-19 infected around 1.99 lakh and killed more than 2500 people in Bangladesh. A recent study conducted among 100.22 million people living in high risk of economic and health vulnerabilities across the country found that around 53.64 million people are extremely poor.
Experts are forecasting that Bangladesh's poverty rate may double to 40.9 percent because of the pandemic which will increase economic inequality in society. The poor and vulnerable people will be more vulnerable.
Another study on national food security by Brac revealed that during the 45-day shutdown period between March and May, the country's farmers faced a loss worth Tk565.36 billion. Bangladesh's RMG sector experienced a fall in exports of as much as 84 percent in April 2020 compared with that of the previous year. More than 1,000 factories have been closed and 2.19 million workers lost their jobs. In March 2020, the export earnings were just Tk44.14 billion ($520 million), down from Tk256.66 billion ($3.03 billion) in March 2019.
The pandemic hit the middle class most and a significant number of Dhaka dwellers left the city due to income loss. It is easily understandable that the economy of the country cannot survive a long term lockdown. At the same time, we have to remember that the life of a human being is also invaluable.
Many cottage and micro-enterprises became handicapped by losing their capital due to the Covid-19 crisis from March to June 2020 in Bangladesh. A significant number of migrant workers are sitting idle in their respective host countries due to the lockdown. Most of them may have to return home due to a job cut in those countries. As a result, unemployment rate will be the highest for the last three decades.
To save life the priority should be ensuring healthcare facilities for all. More investment is required in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment sectors to control this pandemic and face future pandemics efficiently.
Whether to save life or livelihood is a million-dollar question facing the policymakers now. But nobody knows the answer; therefore impact assessment is necessary to determine the cost of herd immunity versus hard lockdown in terms of economic and human life.
The focus should be on employment retention at home and abroad (for expatriate workers). Local industries are cutting jobs to reduce costs, while expatriate workers are in threat of returning home due to job loss. In such a condition, the government should have a special package to retain the jobs of the local workforce as well as the employment of the migrant workers.
The workforce that will be unemployed due to the Covid-19 crisis has to be rehabilitated in the shortest possible time to avoid a long-term economic downturn in the coming years. Reskilling and upskilling of the workers should be the highest priority at this moment. At the same time, visible, transparent, quantifiable and easy to access entrepreneurship development initiatives are required to generate new employment opportunities.
Covid-19 destroyed our industrial competitiveness like nothing else. As a result, Bangladesh needs LDC facilities in the international market at least for the next decade. Therefore the government may consider holding the LDC graduation process for the next 4/5 years. At the same time, US-China trade war, India-China relations, realities of South China Sea, Brexit in Europe remind us that the international market access condition in the coming days may not be in our favour.
Therefore a proactive foreign policy drive is required to explore new markets (duty-free and quota-free) for Bangladeshi products. The government has to find new destination countries for free movement of Bangladeshi labours too.
Exploring Africa could be an option for Bangladeshi investors to go and invest and they can recruit Bangladeshi workers in the factories there. Thus we can explore African opportunities in terms of internationalisation of Bangladeshi companies and explore new forms of migrant working facilities for the expatriate workers.
Everything is possible while Covid-19 is controlled in Bangladesh. The recent Covid-19 infected Bangladeshi flight to Italy and subsequent banning of Italy bound Bangladeshi flights is a national shame for us and should be a significant lesson too. Repetition of a similar event with any other country may turn us into an infected nation and reduce our international trade, FDI and migrant worker export options.
Therefore, controlling Covid-19 by ensuring proper testing facilities, treatments and controlling movement of infected people should be our highest priority now. Otherwise, nobody will come to invest in an infected environment or to do business with an infected community or import infected workers from Bangladesh.
Special diplomatic drives are required to regain our reputation in Italy and other European countries to ensure market access of Bangladeshi goods there and facilitate movement of Bangladeshi nationals in Europe and other parts of the world.
Md Joynal Abdin, secretary, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI).