Originally published in The Independent on 25 July 2020

The upcoming challenges will be more dramatic when the new poverty problem will come and merge with the existing hunger problem, sanitation, malnutrition, vulnerable population, etc.

Dealing with the unforeseen challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a considerable toll on people not only in Bangladesh but worldwide. 213 countries and territories around the world have reported a total of 15,750,753 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a death toll of  638,295 deaths as of 24 July, 2020 (Source: World Meter).

As most countries and territories have registered Covid-19 cases, and the entire world is buzzing with uncertainty and questions: How long will the pandemic last? What will the lives of the people look like once the pandemic ends?

There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the impacts of Covid-19 and possible responses from governments to limit the human and economic effects of the pandemic. It is not an easy job to cast world poverty now. It requires hypotheses on how to forecast growth and how such growth will affect the poor, along with other complications such as how to calculate poverty for countries with outdated data or entirely without data.

We have two kinds of downfalls in poverty in Bangladesh — one is linked to the risk of the near-poor falling into poverty, and the other is about the risk of the moderate poor falling into extreme poverty. Both kinds of vulnerabilities need to be taken into account while formulating strategies and projects in times of crisis like Covid-19, as they may demand various solutions and approaches.

A research paper titled “Poverty in the time of Corona: Short-term Effects of Economic Slowdown and Policy Responses through Social Protection”, conducted by Binayak Sen, Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), estimated that Bangladesh will have 16.4 million new poor in 2020 as the income of working class in urban and rural areas have fallen sharply due to the prolonged lockdown. Under a post-lockdown positive scenario, the total poverty of the nation will rise by 25.13%, where rural poverty will be 24.23% and urban poverty will be 27.52%.

If we perceive a 25% higher poverty line, then in rural and urban areas an estimated 16 to 20% of the population will also be in poverty. Accordingly, if we update our age-old poverty line, it would result in far higher poverty where rural poverty will be 45%, and urban poverty will be 36% as per the analysis of BIDS. According to another analysis of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh’s national poverty rate rose to 35% in 2020 from 24.3% in 2016 due to the adverse impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

All such prediction and data warn us that we must act very carefully next to fight against new rise of poverty along with existing rates. As food insecurity is also most likely to strike hard on the millions who are really victims of poverty in Bangladesh. Now the upcoming challenges will be more dramatic when the new poverty problem will come and merge with the existing hunger problem, sanitation, malnutrition, vulnerable population, etc.

Although the government has given a number of incentives and promises to tackle this challenge, experts say it is far from what is needed. Corruption and negligence of service delivery by facility providers have added a different dimension to the existing problem.

Overall, the government, the administration and the responsible persons need to be more aware of the present and emerging problems and adopt a workable and sustainable plan on how to overcome them quickly. If the money allocated for the poor and the foreign aid is not spent very transparently and smoothly, Bangladesh might go decades behind, according to think tanks.

Md. Saifur Rahman
The writer is student of Development Studies, Bangladesh University of Professionals