Low-income people, who have already run out of savings, are borrowing money from relatives and neighbours to survive, according to a study of the Centre for Peace and Justice (CPJ) of Brac University.
The study report on livelihood crisis, social cohesion challenges and mitigation options in the throes of the pandemic reveals that 67% of men are borrowing from their relatives while 58% of women are seeking loans from neighbours to meet the needs of their families. Only 10% of the people got loans from banks and other lenders.
While presenting the findings on Tuesday, Dr Sanaul Mostafa and Dr Shahidul Islam, the lead researchers of the study, said urban informal workers and returnee migrants had suffered the most during the pandemic. Low-income people accumulated debts, borrowing overwhelmingly from informal sources, given the loss of average income by one-third compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Food insecurity has intensified as 40% families have been struggling to get three meals a day, 70% have consumed less amount of food and 87% reduced their protein intake.
A majority of the survey respondents felt that social bonding and unity had deteriorated.
Low-income workers graded the government favourably on managing the pandemic but doubted its ability to control the virus. Around 70% of pandemic-hit workers expected the government to help them recover from their economic loss. Only 16% of the respondents felt that they would be able to cope with the Covid impacts.
Chairperson of Brac and Chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said, "The study and the discussions today certainly point to the myriad ways in which we can continue exploring to develop our understanding of the gaps in policies."
He insisted that credible research was one of the ways to inform policymakers of vulnerable groups, including the "new poor" who had emerged during the pandemic.
Resident Representative of United Nations Development Programme Sudipto Mukerjee said, "There are discussions whether the budget has duly considered the new vulnerabilities that emerged during the pandemic and the CPJ research certainly informs the policymakers of certain issues."
Development agencies, private sector and academic institutions, amongst others, have to work together to find a solution to the problems, he added.
Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh Farah Kabir said different dimensions of gender-based violence had been noticed, with women, who had not been subjected to violence, becoming victims now. Besides, child marriage has spiked and a patriarchal mindset has prevailed in vaccine uptake and caregiving.
"NGOs' role amidst the pandemic should be analysed considering their specific mandates. And the reports could best be broken into separate policy briefs based on themes, mandates of targeted actors, and scope of work for the policy-makers,'' she added.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said, "For the sake of social justice, the retrenched workers should be given access to under-utilised donor funds."