By Shah Mohammed Dedar, HelpAge International Bangladesh
Zafor Alam sits by the side of the road in one of Cox’s Bazar's sub-districts, in the drizzling rain, hoping a local government officer or someone else will offer him some support.
He has heard that the Government of Bangladesh has declared many initiatives for poor people like him, which include food aid and cash grants.
Alam, 62, lives in Anjumanpara village in Palong Khali. He earns a daily wage of Tk. 500 (6 US dollars) by selling tea and biscuits. He is the only member of his family who earns money as his three daughters no longer live with them, but they aren’t earning any money due to COVID-19. He has to cover the expenses of three members of his family with that income. He also pays for the educational expenses (including coaching fees) of his only son.
I found Alam waiting for relief on Thursday afternoon when I was returning home from the Rohingya camps. He told me that the "Choukidar" (village police of the local council had declared that every inhabitant must stay at home. If anyone breaks the law, then s/he will be punished. That is why he had to stop selling tea. He has not earned a single taka in more than two weeks since Bangladesh started to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which has seen more than 4,689 people (7 in Cox’s Bazar) infected, forcing a countrywide lockdown.
"We might die of hunger before coronavirus," Alam said, ‘so, how are we meant to stay alive?’
In Ukhiya sub-district, many older people are the only ones that earn money in their families. They get their alms and daily income through informal work, such as selling tea, vegetables, pulling rickshaws, and doing security jobs. This includes older women who work as house helpers/maids and some other small occupations. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many older people have lost their jobs, their means for bringing food to their families. In addition, the prices of groceries have gone up and there is a shortage of supplies. So, older people in low and middle-income families have been really struggling to maintain their essential diets. Many older people are worried about the economic consequences if this situation lasts much longer. They are worried about how they are going to address their daily needs of food and medicine.
‘Those who have adequate money in hand have gone into home quarantine to protect themselves along with their children from coronavirus. They have stocked up on essentials, including rice, lentils, edible oil, meat and fish in their homes. All of them along with their family members will be safe with enough stocks of sanitisers. Their children will be hale and hearty. But Coronavirus is difficult for us who do daily labour to get by. We don’t have any savings; we’re not able to buy plenty of food, especially as food prices have gone up. If the quarantine remains, we don’t know how we will get food.”