Caretaker of a house in Jigatola in the capital Mohammad Afsar Sheikh cannot afford the cost of heart surgery for his one-and-a-half-year-old son Rahmatullah. He has to spend Tk1,500 per month on medicine for the boy's treatment from his Tk12,000 salary.
"Nothing remains at the end of the month after barely managing the little boy's treatment, food cost of the family, and the school expenses of the older three children. Most of the days of the month, we eat rice, pulses and mashed potatoes," he told The Business Standard on Tuesday afternoon.
Afsar Sheikh said, "I bought pulses, oil and sugar from a TCB truck for two days with great difficulty. I do not know how we will pass the month of Ramadan as the prices of daily essentials are increasing by leaps and bounds."
Due to the increased commodity prices, Razia Begum, a resident of North Pirerbagh in the capital, has also reduced food intake.
She told TBS that her husband lost his job during the pandemic. He is now running a small business. After paying the house rent and children's education expenses from the small amount he earns, almost nothing is left for other family purposes.
"As a result, we are being forced to reduce the cost of food. Now we cannot afford milk or eggs for the children. On most days, we have no alternative to eating vegetables whose prices are also increasing day by day," she said.
Most of the low and middle-income people are being forced to cut food costs these days due to rising commodity prices. A recent survey by the Centre for Peace and Justice of BRAC University found that 43% of people reduced their food costs to survive the financial crisis during the Covid pandemic.
Experts believe that this may lead to a further deterioration in the nutrition situation of the country's population.
Dr Khursheed Jahan, a renowned nutritionist and honorary professor of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University, told TBS, "An average healthy normal human needs 2100 kilocalories per day. If a person does not get the required protein, vitamin and nutrition, his work is affected. Every person has calorie and protein requirements based on his age, height and physical activity. Children's stunting will increase if they do not eat the necessary food every day."
"Moreover, malnutrition and infection are correlated. People suffering from malnutrition have different types of infections easily, which ultimately leads to an increase in various diseases," he added.
Experts say that despite the improvement noted in various indicators in the health sector, Bangladesh is still far behind in achieving the desired targets in the nutrition sector. A large section of children, women and the elderly in the country are still suffering from malnutrition. The malnutrition situation has deteriorated further during the pandemic and it will worsen if the amount of food consumed by people decreases due to rising commodity prices.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services, more than 54% of preschool-age children are stunted, 56% are underweight and more than 17% are wasted.
The USAID has said that in Bangladesh 50% of pregnant women and 40% of non-pregnant/non-lactating women suffer from anaemia, while 57% of non-pregnant/non-lactating women are zinc deficient. In addition, 8% of unmarried women aged 15–19 years are underweight.
Dr Khursheed said, "Earlier, it was said that pulses are the protein of the poor. But now the prices of pulses have also gone up. Low and middle-income people are being deprived of essential proteins and nutrition due to rising commodity prices. If the price is not reduced, people will reduce intake of foods from which they get protein and fat. It will have a long term effect on the whole society. On the one hand, due to malnutrition, various physical problems will increase, and on the other hand, their performance will also decrease."
Firoza Begum, a housemaid from Mohanagar Project area in Rampura in the capital, told TBS that she was forced to reduce her food expenses as she did not have sufficient money after paying the house rent and buying powdered milk for her grandchild. "Earlier I could afford small fish at least once a week, but now I cannot even maintain that. We never drink milk; sometimes we eat fried eggs, but now the price of eggs has also increased," she said.
Eggs meet the nutritional needs of low-income people. The price of eggs has also gone up. The price of a dozen eggs in the market is now Tk115-120. Experts believe that due to the increase in the price of eggs, there will be a big shortfall in the nutrition of the people.
Professor Khaleda Islam from the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University told TBS, "Protein of eggs is of a very high quality. It is important to eat eggs to ensure nutrition for everyone from children to adults. Eggs should always be within the reach of the underprivileged. If the price of eggs goes up, the nutrition of the low and middle-income people gets affected."