Bangladesh has a long experience in facing natural disasters and managing risks and has been utilizing the learning to cope with Covid-19 too, writes Dr Mohammad Rezaul Karim for South Asia Monitor
The global economy is severely afflicted by Covid-19. As development progress gets stuck up or takes a slower pace, every country is trying its best to revive the economy, normalize life and sustain the environment. Priorities of healthcare and human care have got the utmost priority. From the beginning of the breakout of the virus, Bangladesh has been playing a leading role by implementing public policies, revising them, or enacting new policies.
In order to come to grips with the situation, Bangladesh preferred a humanistic approach alongside the recovery of the economy where health and medicine were accorded the topmost priority, coupled with a stage-by-stage recovery strategy.
Unemployment zoomed during the pandemic. Significant numbers of employed persons lost their jobs. Bangladesh also faced similar problems. The Bangladesh government undertook policy interventions. In order to address the Covid-induced issues and continue the development works, Dhaka set up a strategic and comprehensive plan to streamline the economy by prioritizing sectors.
The first stage was characterized as humanistic. Ensuring comparatively comfortable living was the prime concern with the assurance of food and minimizing the infection and death rate. A special package for the health and bank sectors was announced.
Closure of educational institutes was announced; lockdown was imposed. Necessary public offices were kept open. In the first phase, development progress was stuck. The government stopped or reduced funding for big projects but continued with expansionary policies. Distributive policy initiatives were taken to enhance the capacity of the poor people.
At the second stage, looking at the Covid wave and analyzing the severity, Bangladesh started lifting restrictions gradually, opening up businesses and allowing people’s movement. In spite of being lambasted by health experts and social activists, the government allowed the garment industry to open for the better benefit of employees and the economy.
In the second stage, people began to get used to Covid. The borders opened, business continued and flights resumed. The government offered a stimulus package and reduced the interest rate in banks to increase the buying capacity and encourage investing. Living with Covid and working became the strategy at the second stage and it worked.
In the third stage, Covid infection and death cases became a normal phenomenon. All economic activities started in full swing to recover the loss. A good number of people got vaccinated to start a normal life. The government resumed big projects. The emphasis was also on global partnership and online education.
Although there is uncertainty because of the emergence of new Covid variant, it is a learning that we have to live with the coronavirus and manage it following the health protocols and vaccines.
Bangladesh has a long experience in facing natural disasters and managing risks; it is learning to cope with Covid too. The timely decision by the government to continue economic activities contributed to GDP growth, managing employment, increasing exports and imports, and most importantly, sustaining social stability.
What needs to be done
A total of 15,2790 million taka for 14 stimulus packages was released by the government in 2020 and 2021, but the final spending was only 60 percent. However, the older regular project of selling rice at 10 taka per kilo saw almost 100 percent success.
The government planned to provide cash support to five million day labourers, farmers, house staff, transport workers and teachers of technical schools and non-MPO madrasas. Each beneficiary was supposed to get taka 2,500 once. Sources said only three million people got the money in 2020. The government continued the programme in 2021.
The government should go for diversified job opportunities, develop new skills areas and control inflation besides undertaking mass vaccination to continue the good work it has done.