The ongoing pandemic has been weighing heavy on low and middle earners as they are unable to afford healthy foods. With rising prices of daily commodities and reduced income, low-earning households are not being able to put nutritious food on the table.
Speaking to day earners in the capital, The Business Standard learned that many of them have not been able to buy meat, fishes and even eggs. Some have even been forced to settle for two meals a day.
Rickshaw van puller Abul Hossain, 55, who lives in the capital's Farmgate area, is the only breadwinner for his family of seven, including his parents and three children. The ongoing pandemic has forced him to borrow some Tk1 lakh over the months to help him feed the family. On top of that, the recent rising prices of essentials has added to his struggle for survival.
"I have not been able to buy any kind of meat since the last Eid-ul-Adha. Could not buy fish for the last one month," Abul Hossain told The Business Standard.
"I earn Tk400-500 a day by driving a van, but now it is becoming impossible to make ends meet with this sum. I have no choice but to cut down on purchases of daily necessities," he said, adding, "It makes little difference to the rich and affluent when prices of goods go up; we are the ones who suffer."
Garment worker Raushan Ara Begum, 50, said that her husband lost his job during the pandemic, forcing her to bear the family's monthly expenses, including house rent, children's education and food with an income of only Tk10,000.
"I cannot afford beef at this time and have been buying broiler chickens once every week or every two weeks. But it looks like even that has gone out of reach as broiler chickens are now priced at Tk200 per kg," he told The Business Standard.
"Since the prices of goods are skyrocketing and I do not have much money, I have just bought eight eggs, green bananas, gourd, potatoes and vegetables," she added.
Alam, a hawker at Kawran Bazar, said he is now managing only two meals a day.
Dr Khursheed Jahan, a former faculty member of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard, "Those who have been consuming less calories and have not been able to get enough nutritious food since the pandemic began will have their efficiency at work decline, for they are susceptible to various physical and mental problems."
She stressed that younger children will be affected more due to the lack of healthy and notorious food.
"Due to low calorie intake and malnutrition, children's growth will be hampered and their future performance will be reduced," she said.
In case of middle-aged people and senior citizens, risks of many physical problems and performance issues are also likely, she said, adding, "The lower and middle classes of society should try to go for food with the most nutritious value within their buying range."
Speaking on the Covid-induced financial strains on people, Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, a professor in the Department of Economics at Dhaka University, told The Business Standard, "Rising commodity prices do not hurt the upper class; it is the low and middle income earners who mostly suffer. Besides, a large number of people have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The recent price hike of commodities has made their already tough living even tougher."
She recommended collaboration among the agriculture, commerce and food ministries to monitor markets and prevent artificial price rises.
The prices of all varieties of rice have gone up by Tk5-10 per kg in the last few weeks. The price of broiler chickens has gone up from Tk120 to Tk190 per kg, while the price of onions has risen from Tk45 to Tk60 in the last two weeks. Prices of lentils, ginger, sugar, edible oil, flour, tea, and condensed milk have also gone up. Prices of chicken eggs have gone up by at least Tk10 per dozen in the last three weeks. The prices of vegetables have also increased.
Nurnabi, a chicken retailer in Karwan Bazar, complained that the wholesalers were selling at higher prices, so people like him too had to sell at higher prices.
Abul Kashem, a rice wholesaler, told The Business Standard, "In fact, we do not understand why the prices of all commodities are high. Now there is no shortage of commodities in the market."
The government says it is trying to reduce the soaring prices of daily necessities. The commerce ministry on Monday held a meeting with the National Board of Revenue to discuss the matter.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told the media on Monday that the ministry has requested the board of revenue to reduce tariffs on a number of products imported under the commerce ministry, including onions, edible oil and sugar.
The minister also warned of strict action against those behind the stockpiling of goods.
"The markets are being monitored," he said.