Almost half of the population of Cox's Bazar Sadar has become vulnerable and struggled to access food during the Covid-19 pandemic due to significant downturns in livelihoods and income, a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) assessment has found.
The Cox's Bazar Urban Vulnerability Assessment found that 40% of those surveyed have had no income since March and 48% have struggled to buy enough food.
As a result, they have been heavily relying on external assistance, including from the governmnet and donors.
The loss in income and the consequent reduction in food expenditures are also manifested in the frequency of meal consumption at the household level.
During the study, 61% households took three meals per day compared to 92% before the pandemic.
In June this year, the WFP conducted a data collection exercise for the Cox's Bazar Urban Vulnerability Assessment.
Around 448 households' interviews were completed and the data were collected through a remote phone survey. Most of the municipal households interviewed were male-headed (84%).
Close to half of the female-headed households in Cox's Bazar Municipality were found to be highly vulnerable following the crisis. In contrast, a quarter of the male-headed households were in the same position.
The objective of the study was to assess the impacts of the current crisis on livelihoods and access to food and other essential needs and provide evidence to address priority needs and guide targeting of existing and future interventions in the area.
"Covid-19 is more than a health crisis; it is also a socio-economic crisis for millions of people around the world. Here in Bangladesh, urban populations and those who rely on tourism or the informal wage sector to make a living are the hardest hit," said Sheila Grudem, Senior Emergency Coordinator for WFP in Cox's Bazar.
Overall income decreased by 42% since the countrywide coronavirus shutdown started in March, the assessment found. The calculation was made based on the last income received and typical income the households were making before the shutdown.
Daily wage workers have experienced a more than 70% drop in income, while those self-employed have seen a 44% drop.
Business owners and traders have seen income levels drop to two thirds of usual earnings during the lockdowns.
Monthly salaried workers were the most protected in this context, with their income levels dropping by 13% compared to the pre-pandemic situation.
While highly vulnerable people based on income were 7% in the pre-crisis situation, it is 30% amid the Covid-19. Besides, moderately vulnerable are 22%, less vulnerable are 32% at present.
Expenditure on food dropped by 48% compared to pre-crisis levels, clearly depicting the impact of income losses on households spending patterns.
The drop in food expenditure is somewhat proportionate to the overall drop in income levels.
These findings potentially point to a latent nature of economic vulnerability which characterises the poor populations – most of their income is spent on food.
Consumption-based coping are adopted in absence of adequate food in the household while livelihood-based coping strategies are applied in absence or in a lack of sufficient income to meet essential needs.
In April, the WFP launched a programme in Cox's Bazar targeting vulnerable members of the host community through food and cash assistance, complementing the existing distributions made by the government.
"As part of the COVID-19 response, the WFP has provided the local communities with assistance through our livelihoods, school feeding, and disaster risk reduction programmes. Now we are extending these programmes to cover half a million people in the district, including more than 62,000 people in the Sadar," said Grudem.
The study found that 67% of the households received assistance the received assistance after March 1, while 33% did not receive any assistance. More than 80% of the assistance came in the form of food.
Cox's Bazar Municipality is the urban centre of the district, and unsurprisingly is effectively an entirely nonagricultural economy (97%) with trade and services composing almost 70% of the local economy, followed by industrial and manufacturing jobs such as in construction and miscellaneous non-agricultural labour.
Fish traders and labourers in fishing also constitute a fair share of the major income sources. Agriculture in the form of crop production constitutes less than 1% of this economy.