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Desperate struggle for survival in pandemic

  • Published at 11:45 pm August 27th, 2021
aid to poor-food -poverty-mehedi hasan-DT
File photo: People wait for food aid in Dhaka during coronavirus pandemic Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

A third of the women employed before Covid have remained unemployed since June

In a heartfelt yet common scene amid the pandemic, 8-year-old Sanjida was seen crying while holding her mother on the busy streets in Hazaribagh as she was leaving Dhaka due to her family’s not being able to survive in the capital anymore.

Sanjida’s father Akbar Ali, 37, who works as a driver for a professor of Dhaka University, was saying how difficult it had been to make ends meet since the Covid outbreak in the country.

“A few years back I brought my family here in Dhaka for a better life and to provide my daughter with a good education. Although I have not lost my job yet, the salary has been curtailed. I cannot afford to keep them in Dhaka anymore.”

After sending his wife and child to the village, Akbar shifted to a dorm in Dhaka. As for Sanjida, she was separated from her father, had to leave school, and the city had become a home to her. 

Whenever a lockdown is lifted, a torrent of people entering the city has been witnessed repeatedly. Usually, people return to re-join their workplaces that were closed due to the lockdown. 


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There are also cases where people lost their livelihoods permanently and were unable to turn their fortunes around. 

The pandemic has shown the other side of opulence to Saidur Rahman, headmaster and director of Dhaka Cadet School in the Shantibag-Malibagh area. He is now living in his hometown in Ghona union of Satkhira Sadar. 

“I came home on March 16 last year after the closure of educational institutions. There were 250 students and 8 teachers in my school. I closed down the school in August 2020 permanently because I was unable to pay the rent and salaries of the teachers.”

In Satkhira, he tried to earn a living working at a computer store but the pay was not enough. Now he is working as a sales representative for the e-commerce company Daraz.  

‘New poor’ increasing in number

There are still no official statistics on the record of such reverse migration, as well as the “new poor” who have emerged as a by-product of pandemic fallout. 

According to the latest survey by Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) in April, despite economic recovery after the lockdown period, the number of “new poor” stood at 24.5 million, around 15% of the total population. 

Even the economic sectors, which were not completely shut down during lockdown and received fat stimulus packages from the government, were struggling to keep their employees too.

Dr Imran Matin, executive director of Brac Institute of Governance Studies (BIGD), said: "I think the overall economic recovery of Bangladesh is quite good on a global scale.”


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“However, economic recovery can be analysed from many perspectives. Right now, we are seeing two types of groups that are struggling. One is the section of people who were not able to participate in any economic activity at all or another, of those who are employed but haven't recovered fully to the pre-Covid stage,” he said.

“This is because these people were employed in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and service-oriented businesses. These two sectors were not only the most affected sectors due to the pandemic. They were the least prioritized in terms of receiving a stimulus from the government," he explained. 

"We'll continue to see this section of people having trouble to meet their ends unless there is a sectoral revival of the economy here," the policy expert added. 

Unemployment hits women hard 

According to the findings of the survey, the employment scene has improved since the first wave of the pandemic. 

However, the impact hit two genders of the population differently as a third of the women employed before Covid-19 have remained unemployed since June.

Mithila Karmakar, 26, a fresh graduate from the capital’s Badrunnesa College, has been out of work for the past six months after her previous employer, a tech startup company, laid her off from the receptionist’s position. 


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“I got that job just after graduation. The company tried to keep me initially but after multiple lockdowns, they are permanently working from home. There is no need for a receptionist anymore so they had to let me go.”

Now she is residing at her parents’ home in Rajshahi, in the apprehension of getting married under constant pressure.

“I had a plan to study and prepare for government jobs while maintaining my day job. However, the goal is getting bleak now, as it is tough to survive in a family of five without a father. I’m desperately looking but I’m not sure when I’ll return to work again.”

Regarding women going back to work, Dr Imran Matin said: "There should be a comprehensive study on the struggle of women in the urban work sector to get back to work. They are the ones lagging behind the most. In the same family if both a man and a woman are employed, in most cases the man will be considered to have the first shot in getting back to employment."

Our correspondents Asaduzzaman Sarkar from Satkhira and Dulal Abdullah from Rajshahi contributed in this report