There was not much presence of passengers though the boatmen at the ghats on both sides of the Buriganga River were waiting with their boats since the morning.
Shyambazar Ghat, Wise Ghat, Tel Ghat, Lalkuthi Ghat, Farashganj Ghat and Badamtali Ghat are almost empty during the strict lockdown.Billal Mia, a boatman who was sitting idle on his boat at Lalkuthi Ghat, said, “Usually my boat would have filled within 2-5 minutes. Now I don’t find a passenger even after waiting for half an hour. This is taking a heavy toll on my income.”
Billal Mia’s story is shared by most of the poor people in urban areas as the strict lockdown has hit hard their livelihoods.
They are bearing the brunt of the pandemic as the country struggles to contain a deadly second wave of COVID-19 by imposing strict lockdown and curbs on movement.
People with a fixed monthly income are somehow surviving but people working in different informal sectors are losing their source of income and fighting an constant battle to survive this hardship.
Tahera Begum, a middle-aged woman who used to paste spice in different restaurants in Baridhara, lost her work when the deadly virus began spreading in the country.
Later, she began selling tea, cigarettes and other items during this strict lockdown.Desperate Tahera on last Wednesday stepped outside her house in search of food and requested police to allow her to run her shop. Police didn’t permit her to open the shop but provided her with some money to buy food.
“I thank Police for their assistance. But they will not help me every day. If I cannot open my shop, I have to find an alternative,” she said.
Sunil Karmakar, a blacksmith, used to run a roadside shop in the capital’s Kamarpotti in Karwan Bazar before the lockdown. His shop is closed now.
He said, “Weeks before the Eid-ul-Azha is the most important time of the year to make some good profits as people buy knives, chapattis and choppers during this time. But this year I don’t know what will happen to my business.”
Kamalapur Railway Station was silent. There was neither any whistle of the train nor the sound of the hustle and bustle of commuters. Most of the porters were lying on the boxes kept on the pavements and benches of the station.
Mintu Sheikh, a porter, was sitting in an abandoned carriage of the train in the last corner of the station.
Sheikh said, “I have no work as train services have been suspended due to lockdown. I have my wife, sick father and three children to feed in my house. Who will provide them food? This strict lockdown is really harsh for people like me.”
When asked that whether he knew about the government’s food assistance service through dialling 333, he replied he didn’t know about such an initiative.
According to a survey titled “Impact of the Covid-19 Epidemic on Poverty and Livelihoods” conducted by the South Asian Economic Forum (SANEM), the overall poverty rate in urban areas, which was 18.3 percent five years ago, has almost doubled and increased to 35.4 percent during the coronavirus period.
The survey also found that the impact of the epidemic has increased the extreme poverty rate to 28.5 percent from 9.4 percent in 2016.
The government has allocated Tk 23.06 crore for supporting the poor, destitute and unemployed people in 64 districts who have been affected due to the ongoing lockdown.
Economists and experts have said this allocation is never enough compared to the number of people living below the extreme poverty line. They also questioned about the proper distribution of this money.
They said if the duration of strict lockdown lingers, the people in the informal sectors will face a terrible hardship.
Former lead economist of the World Bank Dr Zahid Hussain said, “It is really a difficult situation for the government as it needs to extend lockdown and consider the situation of the poor people as well. The government, therefore, has to coordinate between life and livelihoods.”
“Continuation of lockdown will not resolve the problem permanently,” he said, adding that the government has to assist the poor people, vaccinate them and make them aware to follow health guidelines.