Let us once again wish a happy new year. However, how happy the New Year will be, only time will say. The just gone 2022 has been a year of persistent agonies for the ordinary people of Bangladesh mainly because of economic hardship. Hardly the country had started recovering from the socio economic disaster due to the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, when came the shock of Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupting the economic order of the country, nay the whole world.
The impact of the Ukraine war followed by the stringent economic and trade sanctions on Russia imposed by the USA and its allies has been unbelievably colossal. Prices of oil, gas and electricity went up sharply. Disruption of shipping trade between Russia, Ukraine and other countries raised concern worldwide not only by increasing the cost of fuel, food, medicine and many other essential items including agricultural products like seeds, fertilizer and insecticides but also making the availability of these products immensely difficult.
Record high inflation, increased cost of living and decline in real income may be considered the most painful memories of the year 2022, the legacy of which is now being carried forward to the New Year 2023 despite the inauguration of the three of twelve remarkable mega-projects of infrastructural development during the same period. These three projects, namely the Padma Bridge, the Karnaphuli Tunnel and the Dhaka Metro Rail, will certainly be seen as a silver lining in the dark clouds of miseries, panic and anxieties of the common people of the country.
Stepping into a new year with the pains and agonies of inflation and high cost of living pushing millions of people from the middle class to lower middle class, from the lower middle class to lower class and subsequently to below poverty line, the year 2023 may not prove any better for the ordinary people of this country, especially when the UN Aid and food agencies predict a bleak future of global economy and food grain harvest across the world. The Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that one third of the world economy will be in the grip of recession during the current fiscal year.
As predicted by the economic experts of the country, the biggest challenges for the year 2023 would be high inflation and dwindling foreign exchange reserve. The country suffered decline in remittance and export-earning during the year just said good bye. The foreign exchange reserve (FER) came down to $ 33bn from $46bn in just about a year or so. The country may find itself in a situation in terms of economic recovery and affordability of food for the common people, worse than before.
In spite of all those negative aspects of economic indices of the year just left behind and the ominous predictions of the experts at home and abroad for the coming months, there is no reason for the people of Bangladesh to be so pessimistic as to give up all hopes for a better future. We must not forget that Bangladesh has been more or less self sufficient in food in the recent years and is capable of meeting any temporary food crisis in the coming months. The country’s land is fertile. Its people, especially the farmers, are skilled and hard working. If morning shows the day, there is no reason why we should not be optimistic of better days ahead of us. We have just had a bumper harvest of food grain. Our export in the first half of the current fiscal year has shown an upward trend. Remittance is beginning to pick up. The kitchen markets of the country are seen flooded with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
It is good to see that the Awami League government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has embarked upon a massive program of food subsidy for poor people of the country. It has issued family cards to more than a crore families so that they can buy food at a subsidized price. It has introduced large scale open market sale (OMS) of essential goods like rice, lentil and vegetable oil at a cheaper price.
2023 will be a year when there will be a lot of political activities in the country in connection with the next general election due to be held by the first week of January, 2024 and with that there will be massive inflow of cash, both white and black, in the market. Economists will agree that peaceful and constructive election campaigns help flourish the economy of the country, although political uncertainty, if not unrest, centering the next election may discourage the investors from investment until the election is over. The year 2023 may be considered a slum period for investment in the country.
The threat of a new coronavirus variant F-7, reported to be at least four times speedier than the previous ones in contraction, will be a matter of great health concern for the people of Bangladesh during the year 2023. The health structure of the country is already fragile. Any lapse in fighting the new variant will be disastrous.
The year 2023 will therefore be, most likely, a year of uncertainty and anxiety for the people of Bangladesh both in terms of economy, health and politics. Let us prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The writer is a retired Merchant Mariner and columnist
Source: Sun Editorial