The latest government move to distribute cash and food assistance to more than 16 million poor families across the country deserves strong appreciation. More than 3.6 million families, according to media reports, are expected to get cash aid worth Tk2,500 each as an 'Eid gift'. The finance ministry has already sent a proposal to distribute Tk. 6.11 billion for approval of the prime minister. The disaster management and relief ministry, on its part, has announced a programme to distribute food assistance from this week to as many as 12.5 million poor families hit hard by the ongoing lockdown.
Restriction, may it be in the form of lockdown or shutdown imposed by the government or any other entity, on movement or economic activities does hurt everyone, economically and psychologically. But not all are affected equally. Some people can withstand the losses caused by such restrictions for a longer period. But there are millions of families, who have to earn daily for the sake of survival, cannot afford any disruption.
The ongoing lockdown - a restrictive measure imposed by the government to contain the deadly virus that has emerged as more contagious and deadlier than before -has affected the poor families most. They are still licking the wounds inflicted on them during the three-month-long 'holiday' the last year. The number of poor and hardcore poor has gone up notably in 2020 because of the pandemic. The situation has been far more serious in Dhaka than in any other place. The ongoing lockdown, which might be extended for a few more weeks, has come as a death blow to these people. They desperately need help, in any form - cash or kind.
Under the circumstances, the government move to make available its assistance, be it in the form of ' Eid gift' or food basket, to these vulnerable families is well-directed. But, the government's good initiatives often fail to deliver results up to the desired level due to bureaucratic complexities and some irregularities at the field level. Last year, the government had also distributed 'Eid gift'. But, nearly 1.5 million people were deprived of assistance because of the 'error' in the preparation of the list of beneficiaries and 'inactive' personal identification numbers (PINs).
The latest surge in Covid infections and fatalities is about to unsettle the process of economic recovery. None knows for sure when normalcy would return. Much would depend on the scale of the government's mass vaccination programme and people's adherence to proper health safety guidelines. But, the government and the affluent section of the society will have to take all possible measures to help the poor during this crisis. The scale of voluntary help that was extended to the poor during the initial months of the pandemic, unfortunately, is missing this time.
The government, on its part, should start the distribution of 'Eid gift' immediately. The list of beneficiaries prepared last year could be used for this purpose. The district administrations should also start helping the poor families, who are not on the said list, from the block allocation available with them. The policymakers do also need to keep one particular fact in their mind: The level of poverty is now at its peak in Dhaka city. The number of poor has only swelled in this city during the past few months because of the pandemic. So, the authorities must make available food assistance on an urgent basis to the poor and others who have been rendered jobless by the ongoing lockdown.