Mindful of the fact that life and livelihood are integral to each other and cannot be considered in isolation, Bangladesh is weighing options to recover from the pandemic shocks. In this connection, there is a lot to learn from the experiences of South Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia who have successfully overcome the ongoing phase of the pandemic shock.
Though the trend of covid-19 transmission is yet to reach a stable stage, Bangladesh has chosen the option of partially opening up some business activities considering the conditions of the vast segment of the jobless. Most of them were self-employed in the informal sector, some doing micro-level trading on the pavements or at the street corners, some driving rickshaws, pushcarts, etc, while others have been temporarily employed in restaurants, shops and the rest being purely day labourers.
However, the government has already been running a widely spread social safety net programme as well as undertaken new schemes to provide the vulnerable sections of society with cash and food support. But this cannot be continued indefinitely. So, these people have to find some work for survival. Similarly, there are thousands of agricultural workers, who must have work both for their own livelihood as well as for farmers to keep them afloat so they may go on feeding the nation. Both the groups have strong arguments to be in work even under the present circumstances and the government has responded to the urgency befittingly by extending generous financial and technical support to them. It is believed these measures would help the domestic sector of the economy to survive the critical pandemic containment period and prepare it for the post-pandemic phase of rebuilding and rehabilitation of the economy.
The same is more or less true of the hard currency-earning garments industry, which has been allowed to operate on a limited scale both to save livelihood of millions of workers and to supply some orders to the foreign buyers which were already in the pipeline. The stimulus package extended to these industrial units would help them keep in the business in spite of the jolt they suffered due to the global as well as the domestic impact of the pandemic. The good news is, even during these lean times, things seem to be looking up as the industry is learnt to have received some fresh overseas orders. This is certainly good omen for the garment sector, especially for its post-pandemic effort to reclaim its lost position.
Although the foreign remittance may see a decline due to the pandemic as well as slump in oil price in the remittance earners' host countries, particularly in the Middle East, the government has extended cheap credit support to the returnee workers so they can start income generating activities. These measures would not only save these erstwhile national assets from becoming paupers overnight, but also turn them into net contributors to the economy. Skill training and development linked to a search for new hosts may be a way to go in the changed context.
As for the other aspects of an economy's inner strength, such as the size of its public debt compared to the GDP, foreign debt, interest rates and reserve position, Bangladesh fares better than most emerging economies including its South Asian neighbours, a fact corroborated by a recent study by the prestigious British journal, the Economist. Despite some positive indicators, there is still little room for complacency. As the road ahead is rocky, there is need for caution topped up by an imaginative forward-looking approach.