When marginalised people have been making a turnaround from Covid-induced income losses they suffered last year, the fresh surge in Covid-19 and subsequent restrictions have now appeared to throw a spanner in their recovery efforts.
Over the last five months, the income of one in every five marginalised households has recovered to a pre-pandemic level. The remaining 80% of families were on the way to getting back their pre-Covid incomes in the next 13 months, according to a study conducted by the Citizen's Platform for SDGs revealed through a virtual media briefing yesterday.
With the pandemic taking a serious turn, marginalised people, including those from micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), char and haor, as well as dalits, persons with disabilities, and migrant returnees would plunge into trouble afresh, the Citizen's Platform said.
In this situation, experts at the online event suggested forming a social solidarity fund for marginalised community people to provide them with food and cash aid for at least three years.
These groups will need support to meet their recurrent expenditures, loan repayment and business restart investment, they added.
Experts also fear that Bangladesh's attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) might get hampered.
Estiaque Bari, senior analyst of the platform, presented the study, titled "Marginalised Communities in Bangladesh Dealing with Pandemic Fallouts".
He said they conducted the study based on information collected through face-to-face surveys of about 1,600 marginalised households across Bangladesh.
Almost all 70% of marginalised people who lost jobs last year have rejoined work, but the current income of around 79% is not sufficient to make ends meet.
Many households cut down on food expenses, reduced the number of items in a meal and compromised on baby food. Besides, they withdrew their savings and took loans to meet their family needs.
They will need five and half months on an average to recover savings and more than two years to repay the principal amount, the study said.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the Citizen's Platform and distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the impact of the pandemic on marginalised people is greater than the impact at the national level. The Covid-19 influx came multidimensionally not only in employment but also in income and savings. Long term impacts on malnutrition, violence and school dropout are also observed in the marginalised groups.
They re-joined work but their income has not reached the pre-pandemic levels yet. Their ability to survive by withdrawing savings, taking loans and selling properties has reduced too, he also said.
As the pandemic situation has worsened, there is now a need for introducing a food and cash air programme for the marginalised groups. Their problems cannot be solved only by enhancing the number of loans, he commented.
The government is not taking the needs of the poor seriously, which was reflected in the current fiscal year's budget.
Claiming that the government does not have the financial capacity to run relief programmes for the poor when it will require a lockdown in the future, Dr Debapriya suggested setting up a solidarity fund in a government-private initiative for at least three years.
Many of the world's least developed countries set up such funds. Foreign and donor agencies also contribute to it, he said.
Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the CPD, said the people who have been hit hard by the pandemic will fall into deep trouble because of an alarming spike in Covid-19. So, a solidarity fund can help their survival.
He also suggested keeping additional allocation in the next budget for conducting relief programmes for the poor.
Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow at the CPD, said there were only talks about the economy in the first pandemic blow.
"We now have to think about socio-economic issues. If this Covid situation continues, it will have a major negative impact on education and health sectors in the future," he added.
As food intake decreases, ensuring nutrition will also become a challenge in the medium term, which might hamper the attainment of SDGs, Towfiqul pointed out.
At least one member of 70.3% of marginalised households lost their incomes during the first wave of Covid-19. More than 94% of people from the MSME lost their jobs, while the rate was 75% in coastal areas, 80% in Slums, 78% for families with disabilities.
Despite more than 97% of people's job recovery, their income remains 16% lower than the pre-pandemic level. The monthly income of these families also reduced by 8% and average savings also dropped by 65%, revealed the report.
About 93% of people engaged in the MSME sector are facing hardship, while the rate is 86% in coastal areas, 87% in slums, and 88% for households having people with disabilities.
Coping strategy to mitigate Covid impacts
About 81% of families reduced costs for items as a coping strategy with the reducing income due to the pandemic, while 89% of the indigenous families took the measures, read the report.
The report further revealed that more than 47% of families reduced the number of protein items. The rate is 87% in the families having people with disabilities and more than 84% in the households headed by women.
About 38%t of households reduced the number of items in a meal, 7% reduced the number of meals and 11% compromised on baby food.
About 65%t of families reduced non-food expenditure like costs for education and health to cope with the reduced income. About 61% of households borrowed money while more than 26% of households withdrew savings.
Household-withdrawn savings are worth Tk34,462 on average while it is more than Tk1 lakh for the families having migrant people. More than five months on average will require saving the withdrawal amount.
The families borrowed Tk52,533 on average and it will require more than 2 years to repay the principal amount with the current pattern of savings. More than 95% of families borrowed the amount to cover the regular expenses.
Limited support measures
About 75% of the people covered by the survey expressed the need for financial support, but 45% of them are yet to receive any grant, revealed the study.
More than 91% of people in the MSME sector require support measures.
The report revealed that the agencies of the government provided support to only 37% of poor people. About 12% of the support came from friends and families of the households and 22% of people received support from NGOs.
Only 41.5% of people expressed satisfaction over the activities of the local government in the tenure of the pandemic, while 39% of them were satisfied with the local administrative officers. Half of the families are satisfied with the activities of the local civil society and NGOs.