Int’l Day for The Eradication of Poverty: Fight steeper due to food price hike
The poor, pummelled the most by the pandemic, just can't catch a break, it seems.
With Bangladesh getting back to its pre-pandemic daily rhythms after continued low test positivity rate and ramping up of vaccination, the re-opening was supposed to be their ticket out of the 18-month-long extreme economic woes.
But the spiralling food prices mean their vicissitude has been reinforced -- lending added significance to this year's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, meant to honour the victims of poverty and hunger.
In Bangladesh, the pandemic has unravelled decades of progress made in poverty eradication.
As many as 2.45 crore people have been pushed into poverty by the public health crisis, according to a survey by the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) in April.
In short, as much as 40 percent of the population is possibly living in poverty now, up from 20.5 percent before the pandemic.
The new poor includes faces like Arju Begum, a maid in the capital's Runagar area, and Akkas Mia, a peanut vendor in Mirpur.
Arju struggled to buy essentials before the pandemic, when the prices of commodities were lower. After months of unemployment, she managed to get her old job back but the runaway food price level is overwhelming her.
"We have forgotten how meat and fish taste like -- we are living on rice, lentil and potatoes," she said.
Like her, Akkas and his family are surviving by eating the bare minimum as most of the food items have become unaffordable for him.
Food prices have been on an upward trend all year and have accelerated in recent weeks.
In the last year, the prices of soybean and palm oil have soared more than 50, while that of lentil, a widely-consumed item, as much as 29.6 percent, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh. The broiler chicken is now 36 percent dearer.
The price of onion has shot up as much as 49 percent in the last month. For vegetables, most of the items are selling at upwards of Tk 40 per kilogram.
Even the price of peanut that Akkas sells has escalated: a kilogram now costs Tk 110, up from Tk 80 before the pandemic.
The rising peanut price coupled with lower sales means there is little left for Akkas to take home at the end of the day.
Before the pandemic, he used to earn Tk 600 to Tk 650 a day by selling peanuts to lower-middle-income people passing by his stall at a busy intersection. Now, he struggles to register sales of even Tk 400.
"How can you take care of a family of four with so little income? And then the food prices are racing every day -- we are surviving by barely eating," a crestfallen Akkas told the correspondent yesterday.
If the ongoing trend continues, people like Akkas and Arju would hit destitution.
"A process of recovery began in July last year but that has been hampered by two new blows," said Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of the PPRC.
One is the second wave that took place earlier this year and the other is the soaring price of essentials due to disruptions in the global supply chain and lack of effective management.
"This price hike is likely to sustain longer and this will impact the poverty recovery and the condition of the poor."
The PPRC and BIGD would soon be unveiling the findings of their latest round of survey on the condition of poverty and economic recovery carried out during August and September.
He suggested direct support to the affected ones.
Besides, he came up with two types of policy intervention: one is anti-poverty policy and the other is poverty eradicating macro policy.
"It will take time for the situation to normalise," said Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Although the lower-income people are finding employment again, those jobs are inferior and lower paid than before.
"This is making it difficult for them to buy essentials," he said, while calling for the expansion of the open-market sales of commodities and direct cash support.