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25 March, 2020 01:24:33 AM
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Daily wage earners hit hard

Covid-19 pandemic
FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
Daily wage earners hit hard

Social distancing has been advised to stem transmission of the coronavirus. People have been advised to work from home. But what about those whose only means of livelihood is selling vegetables or second-hand clothes in Dhaka markets? Vegetable vendor Akram Ali gave a straightforward answer: “There is no way. We need to be out in the street daily to make our ends meet.” Akram has been struggling to sell more than half of his stocks as people are mostly staying indoors for fear of contracting the virus.

“I used to buy vegetables worth Tk 2,000 from Karwan Bazaar every day and sell those at Tk 2,700-2,800. But I couldn’t sell vegetables even worth Tk 1,000 for the last few days,” he said.

“If this continues, we'll die of starvation. There will be no need for a virus to kill us,” he added. Mohammad Belal, a roadside tea-stall vendor in Mohammadpur, echoed Akram, saying his sales kept plummeting every day.

“People aren’t stepping out of their homes. Some young people are buying cigarettes from my stall. But my main profit comes from selling tea. The number of customers has declined alarmingly over the past few days,” he added.

Shajib Hossain, a hawker who sells t-shirts near the Town Hall market in Mohammadpur, faces the same hopeless situation.

“I couldn’t sell a single t-shirt for three days. I’m thinking of going back to my village in Tangail for a few days. Living in Dhaka has become very tough for me under the current circumstances,” he said.

The dip in sales, however, is not the only problem. Working-class people are at a loss when it comes to avoiding contamination on a cramped public transport on their way to low-paid jobs.

“I’ve no option but to take a bus to reach office in Mohakhali DOHS from my home in Rayerbazaar,” said Nazrul  Islam, a peon of a

travel agency.  “Although the buses aren’t crowded these days, I’m scared of contracting the virus. But I have no other option!” he added.

For those worried about the risk of exposure to the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended self-quarantine. This included advice for people not to share bathrooms, living space, and even bedrooms if they can. But such directives do not make any impression on Jamfuli, a housemaid, who lives in a small room in the Rayerbazaar slum along with her two sons and an ailing husband.

The WHO has also recommended washing hands frequently. Such recommendations sound even more absurd to people like Jamfuli as her source of water is a community tap or borehole. She even shares the toilet with a dozen other families.

“We don’t know what lies ahead. We’re scared of the virus, but we’re even more scared about our employment and income. If this continues, we won’t be able to have food in our home,” said a worried Jamfuli.

Some local organisations have come forward to help the people who are living on marginal income.

Shagar Hasnat, coordinator of the Sarobor Foundation, is collecting donations and making a packet with three kg of rice, two kg of lentils, one litre of oil, and a liquid soap. “We’ve been distributing these packets to poor people like rickshaw-pullers, peanut sellers, and street vendors. We have so far distributed over a thousand packets,” he said.

Hasnat, however, said it would not be possible for them to continue this programme for long as they have funds crunch. “Large businesses and the government need to come forward to get these people out of the crisis. We must have a safety network for this group of people,” he added.

The Bangladesh government, however, has not declared yet any measures to protect these people who are living on daily income.

Some western governments have laid out plans to protect these people. Italy, one of the most affected countries, has declared a 28-billion euro package to look after low-income people.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that his government is preparing a significant fiscal stimulus package in the coming days to help people and businesses hit by the novel coronavirus.

“We don’t want any Canadian to worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to pay their rent, whether or not they’re going to be able to buy groceries, or care for their kids or elderly family members. We’ll make sure that Canadian people have the options and the ability to follow the best public health advice and keep themselves safe,” he added.


IK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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