Mahmuda Khanam, a 50-year-old widow, lives in a hut in Sattola slum, Mohakhali with her 15-year-old son. Though she is too old to work, she has to work as a housemaid to support her family, but she has no income because of Covid-19.
"I used to earn Tk6,000 a month by working in three to four houses. There has been no income since the pandemic as people are not hiring housemaids. I am starving."
Mahmuda broke down in tears and asked, "How will we survive?"
Her son sells fried rice, nuts and boot on the street but the marginal income from it is not always enough to prevent starvation.
The condition of people like Mahmuda Khanam who work in people's homes is deplorable because of Covid-19 as most of them have no work. Moreover, they do not have the opportunity to be involved in any other work.
These low-income people are the most affected in the pandemic. A recent report by two private research institutes – Power and Participation Research Centre and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development – found 80% of the country's poor had lost their income due to Covid-19 infection. Those who were a little above the poverty line, have fallen below the poverty line again.
Before the pandemic, Mokhles Mia of Chowdhurypara slum used to sell fruit worth Tk10,000-12,000 a day, but the sales are not even Tk2,000 at present. He had to send the family to the village. The profit he makes is not enough to bear his living costs, let alone send money to his family.
Thousands of helpless low-income people, who come to the capital every year due to river erosion, natural calamities or just looking for work, live in slums or under the open sky and their condition is similar everywhere.
The last slum census was conducted in 2014 by the government's Bureau of Statistics. The census included data from 3,394 slums in Dhaka's two city corporations, home to 6,00,000 people.
According to a report by the General Economics Department of the Planning Commission, the poverty rate rose to 29.4% at the end of June after the outbreak of Covid-19. It had been 20.5% before the pandemic.
Further, the extreme poverty rate is 20.5%, which was 10.5% before the pandemic.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) says the poverty rate has risen to 35% because of Covid-19. According to a May survey by research firm the South Asian Network for Economic Modelling, the poverty rate could rise to 40.9%.
Mahbubul Mokaddem, Professor of Economics at Dhaka University, thinks two lists of slum dwellers should be made based on income; one including the ultra poor and the other with the moderately poor.
He told The Business Standard the government needs to reach out to the ultra poor quickly. In rural slums as well as in rural areas, a widow allowance and old age allowance must be introduced and expanded.