Covid-19 is likely to push an additional 56.2 lakh Bangladeshis into extreme poverty in 2020 under a "High Damage" scenario where the recovery is protracted, says a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study.
As a result, the number of Bangladeshi people living on less than $1.9 per day – defined globally as living below the extreme poverty line – may reach 2.55 crore this year. Meanwhile, under a no-Covid scenario, this number might have stood at 1.99 crore.
Moreover, the "High Damage" scenario may push over 2 crore people (12.32% of the total population) towards malnutrition this year. The number may drop to 1.49 crore (8.17%) by 2030, the data revealed.
Published on Thursday, the study – part of a long-standing partnership between the UNDP and the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver – assesses the impact of different Covid-19 recovery scenarios on the SDGs, evaluating the multidimensional effects of the pandemic over the next decade.
Commenting on the issue, Dhaka University's Professor of Economics Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha said, "Although different institutions have estimated the number of newly added poor in the country, this number may differ.
"But there is no doubt that the ongoing crisis has created 'new poor' in the country, and both the upper and lower poverty line has been increasing. To maintain the success of alleviating poverty and to address this issue, the government needs to include the 'new poor' in its different strategies and planning."
Dr Bidisha urged for assistance in urban areas, saying, "The urban area has been more affected than the rural due to the Covid-19 crisis. So, the government should further extend the social safety net programme to the urban new poor.
"The government has already increased the coverage of the social safety net programme, but the amount of money being distributed is not sufficient at all and the government should revise it."
Dr Bidisha continued, "Moreover, in addition to the social safety net programme, if we sustainably want to lift the people out of poverty, the government needs to take measures to create more income-generating activities for the new poor and vulnerable non-poor."
Dr Bidisha praised the government's current budget on the social safety net, saying, "The government increased the allocation for the social safety net programme in the last budget [for the Fiscal Year 2020-21], which is admirable, but if we exclude other programmes such as pensions and school stipend, the allocated percentage of social safety net programme for the poor and extreme poor would appear less."
Earlier in May this year, the executive chairman at the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman also emphasised the inclusion of "new poor" or "vulnerable non-poor" in the future policies of poverty.
Sorry figure for achieving SDG goal
The National Priority Indicator 1.1 set the target for reducing extreme poverty to below 3% by 2030. But UNDP projected that the figure will reach 15.39% in 2020 and 7.35% in 2030 respectively under the "High Damage" scenario.
So, the country may see 1.34 crore extreme poor in 2030 under this scenario.
Even without the Covid impact, according to the UNDP data, over 85 Lakh people may live under the extreme poverty line by 2030. This is around 4.68% of the total population, and 1.68 percentage point over the national target and SDG.
About achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target, Dr Bidisha said, "Based on the current situation of growing 'new poor,' it is difficult to say at this moment whether we could achieve the SDG target or not by 2030.
"However, the positive picture of achieving the target has changed."
The situation in South Asia
Bangladesh is ahead of India, Nepal and Afghanistan in reducing extreme poverty by 2030, but fell behind Bhutan, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan, according to the study.
The Maldives has already achieved zero poverty and Covid-19 has a very minimal impact on the country.
Even considering the "High Damage" scenario, Bhutan might achieve a significant reduction in extreme poverty level by 2030 to only 1.16% from 4.24% in 2020. The country is followed by Sri Lanka, where extreme poverty may stand 1.22% in 2030 from 2.06% in 2020.
Pakistan (from 6.44% to 6.67%) and Afghanistan (from 49.48% to 52.3%) in South Asia may see an increase in the extreme poverty rate from 2020 to 2030.
While India might reduce 4.18 percentage points to 14.59% by 2030, it is projected that the country may see 18.77% extreme poor in 2020. Meanwhile, Nepal might see 19.3% of its population living on less than $1.90 a day in 2030, a decrease from 22.98% in 2020.