The governments in South Asia should address the needs of the new poor created by the pandemic during the last one year, experts told an international forum.
Addressing a webinar, the rights activists also underscored the importance of supporting the small businesses to save the rural economy hit by the pandemic through strategic planning.Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) organized the meeting titled “Covid-19 Crisis and Social Protection Challenges: Urban and the New Poor” on Thursday, according to handout of the organizers.
Planning Commission’s GED member Dr Shamsul Alam was present as the chief guest.
The event was also attended by the World Bank’s Social Assistance global lead Ugo Gentiliny, Unicef Nepal chief of social policy Usha Mishra, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund CEO Qazi Azmat Isa and BRAC Bangladesh Executive Director Asif Saleh. PPRC chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman moderated the webinar. Much of the impact of the corona pandemic crisis has been in the urban settings, the speakers said. They said, historically, urban share of social assistance has been distinctly lower with the rural-urban gap on average in South Asia being 9.8 percent (in Bangladesh it is 15 percent).
The corona virus pandemic impact has thrust need for urban social protection into the spotlight, they added.
PPPRC-BIGD study identified four urban vulnerabilities- earnings uncertainty of informal occupations, rising non-food expenditure burdens (98 percent rise between March 2020 and March 2021), eroded financial coping capacity (debt as annual income doubled from 13 percent to 26 percent over 1 year), and the unaddressed “new poor”.
Brac Bangladesh executive director Asif Saleh pointed out the “new poor” are not a homogeneous category and “one size fits all” approach will not work.He described Brac’s response focusing on specific categories of “new poor” such as returned migrants, urban families forced to relocate to other urban or rural areas without any livelihood strategy.
Unicef’s Usha Mishra described Nepal’s response pointed to some innovations such as subsidies on electricity consumption of distressed urban families and push for a universal child grant.
Dr Shamsul Alam stressed that no amount of planning could have anticipated the massive disruptive impact of corona crisis. “It was important to adopt a learning approach,” he said, welcoming the rethinking on urban social protection.
He stressed that the importance of engaging established and credible NGOs in the official response to the urban social protection agenda.
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman pointed out that the evidence on COVID-19 impact calls for major rethinking on poverty alleviation approaches building on existing achievements. He noted that 55 percent of Bangladesh GDP comes from service sector and much of this sector is constituted of various informal enterprises and activities.