Vulnerable Bangladeshis Bear Brunt of COVID-19 Fallout

Brook duBois
Jun 2, 2020 · 4 min read

As Bangladesh extends COVID-19 restrictions, food security of the most vulnerable remains top of mind

Noor Begum, right, and her daughter, left, receive a food assistance package to help their family cope with the decrease in tourism in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, due to COVID-19. Photo: Nalifa/Mehelin

The closure of businesses and stay-at-home measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Bangladesh have forced a large part of the population out of work, where 85 percent of people work in the informal sector and rely on daily wages. Coupled with increases in the prices of staple foods like rice, cooking oil and pulses by upwards of 50 percent, the economic repercussions of COVID-19 are far reaching.

Domestic and international flights have also been cancelled and the beach in Cox’s Bazar was closed in early March. For families who rely on the thousands of tourists who visit the seaside district each week, this has forced them to rely on the minimal savings and food stocks they had.

“We own a small shop near one of the hotels but it’s been closed for around three months now so we’ve had a lot of difficulty buying enough food to eat,” says Noor Begum who lives with her two children, husband, and parents.

Measures to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission are introduced at WFP distributions, including physical spacing, temperature checks and handwashing. Photos: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin

In a recent survey, 92 percent of families reported their household income as being affected by COVID-19. Nearly half have no food stocks at home and for most that do, it’s only enough to last around one week. More than 40 percent have borrowed money or food from friends and relatives to get by.

“We don’t have anything to do anymore,” says Sahida, a mother of three and farmer in Cox’s Bazar. “I was working but now I’m not. I keep my children at home and don’t allow them to go out.”

A girl collects a 5kg box of nutritious WFP biscuits in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Over half a million families suffering from the effects of COVID-19 restrictions are receiving WFP food assistance. Photo: WFP/Brook duBois

“We’re acutely aware of the potentially devastating ripple effects COVID-19 could have for hunger and nutrition,” said Zeff Kapoor, the UN World Food Programme’s Acting Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar. “That’s why, together with the Government of Bangladesh, WFP is introducing and scaling up assistance throughout all 10 sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar.”

The biscuits that were provided are packed with 14 important vitamins and minerals which help ensure at-risk children and their families get nutrients they need while enabling worried parents to stay home.

“We don’t go out anymore. We manage with whatever vegetables and groceries are available in the local market,” says Julekha, a mother of two who received the biscuits in April. “The biscuits are essential for our children as well as for us, to consume in these days when food availability is quite scarce.”

Right: WFP’s partner RIC distributes leaflets with information about COVID-19, its symptoms and how to prevent transmission with every box of biscuits. Photo: WFP/Nalifa Mehelin; Left: Women sit at least one metre apart as they gather to collect nutritious WFP biscuits for their children and families in Cox’s Bazar District of Bangladesh. Photo: WFP/Brook duBois

WFP’s special COVID-19 support will target over half a million vulnerable families over the next three to six months. In addition to high-energy biscuits and rice, over 13,000 families have so far each received around BDT 4,500 (around US $53) in cash assistance to help them buy the things they need.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet and over 20 percent of people live below the national poverty line. The highest single-day number of COVID-19 cases was confirmed as recently as 31 May.

Special support to Bangladeshi communities suffering from COVID-19 is made possible thanks to generous contributions from the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

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