For the marginalised ethnic minorities who live far from the health and livelihoods opportunities, Covid-19 has had a greater impact than others. In a recent press conference, the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum asserted that the pandemic has critically impacted the ethnic minority communities living in the hills and plains of the country.
The general health condition of ethnic minorities is poor. The Covid-19 situation has further increased the health risk for them. Since most people of the ethnic minority communities live in far-flung areas, they can hardly access the essential medical services. Besides, the local hospitals in their communities often lack modern health facilities including the intensive care unit or ventilator facilities.
Most of these poor ethnic minority families live in a condition that lacks proper hygiene facilities including hand washing. Many of them live in a one-room house where the scope of isolation is difficult. So, most of the indigenous families are worried about their health safety. Besides, due to poverty, poor diet and malnutrition, their immune system is weak. Thus, they are highly susceptible to Covid-19 infection.
Covid-19 has also sparked the spread of fake news and misconceptions. Many of the ethnic minorities are illiterate and hence became the innocent victim of these misconceptions. Many of them are unaware of the importance of handwashing during the pandemic.
Similarly, the livelihoods of the ethnic minorities have also been badly affected. Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, they are one of the prime victims. Their livelihoods are mainly based on agricultural activities and informal trades. Many of them work as agricultural day labourers and live basically on a subsistence level. A few of them work in beauty parlours and the local tourism sector.
Since the shutdown began and restriction was imposed on public transportation, they are unable to take and sell their agricultural produces to the cities and towns. Since these products are perishable, they incurred a loss that they could not recover.
Beauty parlours in the cities and tourism industry in the hill districts are also closed. This closure turned thousands of ethnic minority people unemployed. Poor ethnic minority communities in the plain are also struggling to find employment as day-labourers due to the closure. So, the livelihoods have been affected in a way that most of them are unable to feed their families.
The ethnic minority communities are one of the most marginal populations in the country. They have been struggling for their rights for decades. Their vulnerability has just been multiplied by the crisis created by the pandemic.
The pandemic is now over five months. Give the size and depth of the creases created by the Covid-19, a quick and long term health and livelihoods support actions are required.
Thousands of ethnic minority families are in dire need of foods and other supports. Government and non-government initiatives to meet their needs are yet to be seen.