• Sunday, Oct 02, 2022
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

Why are informal workers starving during the lockdown?

  • Published at 04:05 pm July 5th, 2021
low income people-poverty-relief-coronavirus-RAJIB DHAR
Low income people wait by Dhaka’s major streets for people to come and provide some relief for them during the nationawide shutdown to contain Covid-19 transmission Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Government has taken measures to distribute aid, but many people are unaware of how to reap the benefits

Despite government measures to provide cash and food aid to people who are unable to work during the strict lockdown that began on Thursday, many workers of the informal sector are unaware of how to reap the benefits.

On Sunday, the government allocated Tk7.7 crore and 22,830 tons of rice for people adversely affected by natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Around 5,450 tons of rice and Tk3.01 crore have been allocated for 64 districts in favour of the district administrations; 3,280 tons of rice and Tk3.28 crore are to go to 328 municipalities.

Rice and cash will be distributed as aid on a priority basis to unemployed and deprived people, including transport workers, considering the impact of Covid-19 and natural disasters, Md Selim Hossain, senior information officer of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said.

Eligible people can get food assistance – rice, pulses, salt, oil, potatoes – from the allotment by calling the national helpline 333, he added.

"Also, 14,100 tons of rice and Tk1.41 crore have been allocated in favour of 64 district administrations to assist people affected by Covid-19, floods, river erosion, and natural calamities," Selim Hossain said.

Unaware that support is a simple phone call away, many people have been breaching lockdown rules and aimlessly wandering about in search for work. 

Also Read - Government allocates 7.7C as cash aid for pandemic-hit families

The sufferings of people

"Sister, are you a journalist? Can you give me a job?" 

These were the words of Mamtaz Begum, a despondent 65-year-old beggar who approached this Dhaka Tribune correspondent recently. She was so desperate for a means of income that she was even willing to be a sweeper at her age.

“I am in great trouble. Please help me,” she pleaded, as she needed to take care of two grandchildren.

Many other poverty-stricken people were also seen wandering about on the streets of Dhaka in search of food or work. 

Various estimates suggest that there are approximately 700,000 beggars in Bangladesh, including at least 40,000 in Dhaka alone, according to the report "Aged beggars in the city of Dhaka," published in the Journal of Humanities and Social Science in January 2019.

Rickshaw pullers, one of the few professions of people who are allowed to continue working during the lockdown, are not faring much better. With most people staying indoors due to the lockdown, there is very little work available for them.

Ali Asghar, a rickshaw puller, said: “I saw the Liberation War. The people were not frightened of bullets then, so they will not fear the bullets of the army when their stomachs are empty.”

Mostafizur, another rickshaw puller, said he could earn Tk700-800 a day before the lockdown, and now he was earning barely Tk300 a day.

Also Read - Covid-19 fallout: Informal sector hit hard by second wave

A report, titled “Impact of Covid-19 on the labour market: Policy proposals for trade union on employment, gender and social security for sustainable recovery”, by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) reveals that nearly 11 million jobs were lost during the period of shutdown from April-May last year. 

The report also notes that the urban informal economy is estimated to have lost 6.78% of its pre-Covid-19 workforce.

According to the Labour Force Survey (2017), 85% of people are employed in the informal sector in Bangladesh. The number was 87% in 2010. 

Experts: No alternative to lockdown, food aid a must

Sadeka Halim, dean of the Dhaka University social science faculty, said: "We are in a life-or-death situation. The Covid-19 infection rate is too high right now, so there is no alternative to a lockdown.”

Mahbubul Mokaddem (MM Akash), professor at the economics department of DU, maintained that there was no way for the lockdown to be lifted right now.

“The lockdown must be imposed, but the people also need food. The government needs to find a way to provide aid to people and raise awareness of how to actually get the aid,” he added.

He also suggested lifting the lockdown in areas with low infection rates.

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