Abul Halim used to work as a waiter at an eatery in the Shahjadpur area of Dhaka. The restaurant would provide him with three meals, and the tips were good too for daily expenses. The 25-year old man used to spend his salary on his family.
Now he waits in front of the shuttered eatery to look for old customers and ask for help. Halim saved Tk700 in the last couple of days from customers amid the shutdown.
"People have no earnings now while the price of all essentials skyrocket. It is impossible for me to afford even iftars in the upcoming Ramadan," he said helplessly.
Rampura slum resident Rubi Akter used to run a tea stall while her husband had been working as a construction worker. The couple lost their income after the virus shutdown began on March 26. Neither of them have any savings to survive the crisis.
"It will be very tough to survive the Ramadan, let alone pay the house rent,"said Rubi.
Like Halim and Rubi, the coronavirus shutdown has made over a crore people jobless in the last one month. Most of them are running out of their stock of food and have already spent their savings. Meanwhile, the price of essentials have started soaring just ahead of Ramadan. The month of fasting may begin from Saturday if the moon is sighted on Friday.
Some crooked traders have hiked prices to cash in on the holy month as usual. Though the import and production data show no shortage in supply, traders insist there is a shortage in supply. They said the supply must improve to stabalise the Ramadan market.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said that they have plenty of stock of all products. In fact production and import even surpass the demand. Necessary initiatives have been taken up to ensure supply of imported goods.
The minister says there is no reason for the price hike. In fact he has asked the taskforce and market monitoring committees to intensify vigilance.
The different accounts on supply of the ministry and traders have put the general people in a fix as usual. Most of them are stocking small amounts of essentials items to tackle the upcoming situation.
Amid the virus pandemic and soaring market prices, customers get a brief respite as vegetables, broiler chicken and egg prices remain comparatively stable compared to that in previous years. The price of cucumbers, aubergines, chickpeas and dates also look stable so far.
Coarse rice was being sold for Tk42-45 per kilogram in Dhaka on Thursday. Traders have hiked the price during the Boro harvesting season because demand for the food staple surged owing to its use as a relief item.
The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) says the price of coarse rice has edged up by nearly 13 percent in a year.
The price of large-sized lentils was Tk75-85 per kilogram even a week ago, but that has soared to Tk90-100. Meanwhile small lentils cost up to Tk130 per kg. However, locally grown lentils arrived in local markets in February-March, just two months ago while lentil import also continued during the period.
Market analysis by the Bangladesh Trade and Tarif Commission says, lentil prices spiked because its demand rose as a relief material during the virus crisis. The commission also points a finger at the delay in the release of imported lentils at the port and impeded supply system due to the ongoing movement restriction.
The price of oil, sugar and onions rise every year ahead of Ramadan. The prices of those essentials increased this year too. Per kilogram of onions now costs Tk60-62 though the onion harvesting season has just concluded and 58,000 tonnes of Indian onions have arrived in the country in just 15 days since March 15. The cooking ingredient was at Tk35-40 per kg just a month ago.
Even though the price of edible oil price has not jumped in the international market, the price of soybean oil has increased in the local market. Per litre of bottled soybean oil costs Tk110-115 while loose soybean is at Tk95-97.
Loose soybean oil, consumed basically by low-income people, saw a 15 percent price hike in a year, while bottled oil price rose by 4 percent.
With a 100 percent hike in price in just one month, ginger shoots at Tk220 to Tk260 per kg. Meantime, ginger imported during the shutdown spiked by Tk117 to Tk300-350 per kg.Sugar price jumped by 4 percent in one month to Tk60-75 per kg.
Meantime, broiler, eggs and vegetables may bring a brief relief for people. Broiler price was at Tk120-130 per kg in the capital Thursday while per dozen eggs was at Tk80-85.
Aubergine and cucumber prices were at Tk40-55 per kg while chickpea were at Tk60-90. Dates were at Tk300 to Tk1,500 per kilogram subjected to quality.Orange rose to Tk220-250 at its demand goes high during iftar.
People have been flocking to state-owned TCB's open truck sales points in Dhaka as essentials prices surged. The corporation has been selling lentil and sugar at Tk50 per kg, soybean oil at Tk80 per litre, chickpea at Tk60 per kg and dates at Tk120 per kg.
Noor Hosen, a grocer in Dhaka's Shahjadpur area, said most of his customers were buying little amounts of the essentials owing to the price hike and virus crisis.
"A customer buys half kg who used to buy minimum two kilograms. People really do not have much in their pocket in this crisis," said the grocer.
Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, also believes Ramadan price hike and virus crisis have doubled the burden for low-income people.
"Ramadan normally brings extra expenditures. But this year's situation is totally different as people do not have income in last one month while the market is heating up," saidGhulam Rahman.
He opined that lower and lower-middle class families should be provided with cash and food support to tackle the situation.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi Thursday held a meeting at the ministryto analyze the market ahead of Ramadan. After the meeting, he said actions have been taken against a number of traders over irregularities and irrational price hikes.
The minister said that a total of 90 teams are monitoring the market and no issue will appear over supply and price during the holy month for Muslims.