The economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 left many people jobless, especially those belonging to low-income communities and involved in the informal economy.
Between April and October last year, around 77 percent of the households in Bangladesh saw a decrease in their average monthly income and around 34 percent of families had at least one member who lost job or earning capacity.To cope with the situation, these families used up their savings and took out loans, leading to 62 percent decrease in their average monthly savings and 31 percent increase in debt.
The data mentioned above are part of the findings of a joint research on the changes in demographic, economic and social environments in the secondary towns, peri-urban (upazila) and rural areas of Bangladesh brought on by the rise in reverse migration during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Center on International Cooperation at New York University, BRAC and UN WOMEN Bangladesh carried out the research.
The research findings were unveiled at a virtual international dialogue titled ‘Demographic and Socio-economic Changes Induced by the Covid-19 Pandemic: Challenges of New Circumstances’ on Wednesday.
A panel of distinguished experts, academics, policymakers and development professionals shared their insights at the dialogue, while focusing on the policy priorities identified by the study findings and suggested opportunities to address challenges moving forward. Leah Zamore, humanitarian crises programme lead at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, moderated the dialogue while KAM Morshed, senior director of BRAC, presented the research findings.
Shoko Ishikawa, country representative, UN Women Bangladesh, Dr Daniel Naujoks, interim director, International Organization and UN Studies Specialization at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and Dr Adam Schwartz, director of health for BRAC USA, participated in the discussion session as the panelists.The study was informed by both qualitative and quantitative methods while it relied on a survey of 6,370 households conducted between December 10 and 25 last year.
The survey was based on a reference period of April-October 2020. The study paid attention to the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on both the internal and international migration, compelling people and families to return to their places of origin.
Around 77 percent of both the internal and international returnee migrants in Bangladesh were struggling to find a job during the survey period. Among these households, 61 percent had at least one member who lost a job or earning opportunity during the pandemic.
The study also found that 25 percent of returnee migrant households expressed concern about repaying their outstanding migration loans which amount to Tk 76,000 (around $900 USD) on average and a maximum of Tk 700,000 (around $8,300 USD).
Around 44 percent of the respondents reported they could not find any income-generating work. Some of them are managing expenses by withdrawing from savings or renting out their assets.
Surveyed households reported a 58 percent decrease in average monthly remittances received during the pandemic. Furthermore, returnee migrant families will increase the pressure on the already resource-constrained local sectors, education and health in particular. Female returnee migrants, mostly internal ones, are dealing with heightened burden during the pandemic.
The findings of the study also suggest a higher incidence of child marriage in Bangladesh during the pandemic. Of the marriages that occurred during the survey period, more than three-fourths (77 percent) of the brides were below 18 years and 61 percent were below 16 years at the time of their marriage.
At the discussion session by the panelists, Shoko Ishikawa said Bangladesh is one of those countries where schools remain closed for over one and a half years although digital learning opportunities for children are quite inadequate particularly in the rural areas.
Columbia University Prof Dr Daniel Naujoks said the study will help local, regional and national level policymakers to create better ideas to address the challenges.
Stressing women’s decision-making role regarding the use of contraceptives, Adam Schwartz said they want to make sure that women have sufficient tools and abilities to safeguard their health and family planning decisions.