The Financial Express

Bracing for economic downturn

Published: March 30, 2020 21:34:13 | Updated: April 01, 2020 22:14:48

Bracing for economic downturn

The overall state of dislocation created in society as a result of the impact of Covid-19 has caused a large section of the population to lose their livelihoods in the big and small cities as well as in the countryside. The overwhelming majority of them having been rural migrants to large and small cities and engaged in mostly low-paid, part-time and contractual jobs, many eking out an existence through self-employment as day labourers, vendors, rickshaw, rickshaw-van and push-cart drivers are now thrown out of work. And one hopes not for an indefinite period of time. They have now been rendered extremely vulnerable and may swell the ranks of the already marginalised sections of society.

A World Bank study says that in the aftermath of the pandemic-triggered social and economic disruptions more people may join some 20 per cent others who already live below the poverty line. Grim predictions notwithstanding, none needn't be overwhelmed by them; for, as a nation of time-tested resilience, courage and ingenuity this country has weathered many a storm.

Now this quite unprecedented situation demands that the government make special arrangements for the mass of people who have suddenly become pauperised. Commendably, the government has already undertaken some measures to provide food-stuffs as relief to the slum-dwellers in parts of the capital city. These are without question very urgently needed short-term measures to feed the distressed in such times of adversity. While the government should continue and expand the scope of such activity to reach different poverty pockets in the country including those who have meanwhile returned to their homes in the countryside, it is also time the administration thought of running gruel kitchens across the country to feed the hard-hit sections of people.

However, economists and experts fear that the uncertainties thus created in the lives of the people may prolong as there is the potential risk of the global economy sliding into recession. Bangladesh being closely linked to the rest of the world economy may not remain immune from the effect of this all-pervasive economic downturn. In such eventualities, the current countrywide slowdown in the economic activities may linger which is why the authorities need to plan ahead to boost productive activities as soon as the storm clouds are lifted. Even during the current holydays some form of gainful economic activities may be encouraged without diluting the do's and don'ts.

The government must be taking a longer-term strategy by way of accommodating those people now without work under its existing social safety-net schemes in the form of Food for Work, VGF, VGD, Test Relief, Cash Transfer and various other activities as part of its overall poverty-reduction efforts. Considering the social safety-net schemes' crucial role in reducing extreme poverty in the past, we would, as a response to the newly created emergency, like to urge the government to widen the coverage of the safety-net and to this end  make necessary readjustments in the upcoming budget.

This is a matter of national contingency. And the responsibility to meet it does not lie solely with the government. Side by side with the government, the private sector, the philanthropic bodies, individuals, NGOs and volunteers from all sections of the community should rise to the occasion and lend a hand in the government's effort to meet challenge together.

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