Dear reader,
This is a testing time. The world as we know it has come to a grinding halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have little doubt that the humankind will overcome this soon. But by the time it’s all over, there will be more hungry mouths to feed than we have today. There is also no doubt that those below the poverty line will be the worst sufferers and they will need our support, more than ever before, to bounce back.
Our field activities remain suspended because of the lockdown. But the Prosperity team at the PKSF is working virtually from home and has already chalked out a comprehensive plan to support these vulnerable people both in the immediate and long terms. For their part, all our Partner Organisations are distributing life-saving relief materials and providing medical support in different districts. Others are running awareness campaigns to protect their community.
All of these are heartening and demonstrate our commitment to fight for the disadvantaged groups of our society. We will resume that fight in full scale once the situation returns to normal. Until then, stay safe and keep your family and your community safe. 

AQM Golam Mawla
Deputy Managing Director, PKSF
Project Director, Prosperity, PKSF

COVID-19 pandemic impact on extreme-poor people: some mitigation measures

The COVID-19 pandemic has significant rattling impacts on the global economy. Primary analyses by governments and development organisations around the world, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank, already paint a grim picture of the global economy in the months and years ahead. Estimates vary, but everyone agrees that the world economy will take a big dent, and the longer the pandemic lasts the greater the GDP loss will be, pushing tens of millions below the poverty line.
This might as well be true in case of Bangladesh. On 1 April 2020, Bangla daily Bonik Barta reported that some 20 million people employed mostly in the informal sector (transport, shop, construction, farming, small industries, etc.) remain out of work due to the lockdown. Most of them hardly have any savings and are therefore dependent solely on their daily income. A recent study by INNOVISION,  a private research agency, shows many of the unmarried rickshaw pullers of the capital have already left Dhaka. Those that still remain in the city have seen their income drop by almost 70%. The research suggests that rickshaw pullers from the northern districts, who make up nearly 60% of the total sample, might suffer the most, as urban to rural migration increases.
This mass migration of low-income people from urban to rural areas has created further pressure on whatever scarce job opportunity the extreme poor people had in rural areas. This joblessness is ultimately restricting people’s access to sufficient food and other basic needs, particularly for the extreme poor households in regions that already face geographic, climatic and social vulnerabilities.
Though the agricultural sector seems less affected at the moment, it will soon be hit hard due to labour and transport shortages because of the curb on movement. This will also limit people’s access to the market and disrupt the supply chain, resulting in huge loss and waste. And as a result of this supply-chain disruption, we can expect to see shortages in the food supply as early as mid-April, lasting until August and even beyond. For extreme poor people, this will mean consumption rationing in general and starvation in extreme cases.

Impact on extreme poor households under Prosperity 
Funded by the UK’s Department for International Development Fund (DFID) and the European Union, the Prosperity project is primarily targeting the extreme poor people. In the first phase (2019-2025), the programme aims to cover some 1 million extreme poor people (250,000 HHs) of 269 unions of 15 lagging districts of Bangladesh. By February 2020, the PKSF completed identification of extremely poor households in 17 piloting unions and was about to start the identification process in the rest 252 unions in early March when the disease started to spread, bringing everything to a complete halt. In the wake of the situation, the government placed the country under lockdown on March 25, which has since been extended until 25 April.
A full impact assessment will take time because it requires a wide range of firsthand data, which is difficult to get by at this point due to the lockdown. Nevertheless, our primary analysis of the piloting data paints a clear picture about the possible impact of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of the extreme poor people in these 17 unions, covering 10 districts spreading over three geographical regions. On average, each union (excluding those in Dalit/Ethnic Minority unions) has 7,874 HHs -- 3,230 of them are extreme poor. The average family size of those extreme poor households is 4.03 persons with a per capita monthly income of BDT 1,455.  Occupation-wise, nearly 61% of these HHs are day-labourer, about 9% involved with small business, 5% involved with rickshaw/van pulling, 5% involved with fishing, 4% begging, and the rest with other occupations.
Given the quarantine measures, restriction on movement and transport shutdown limiting access to markets and supply chain, the prevailing employment opportunities for rural labourers and/or other occupations have eroded across the country, including in the 15 districts under the Prosperity programme.
For example, in the northern districts of Kurigram and Gaibandha, two Prosperity working areas where piloting was done, the majority of the poor and extreme poor people are day labourers. But they hardly have any work now; all Rabi crops have already been harvested and harvesting of Boro rice does not begin before the end of April or early May. Many of them earn their living by pulling rickshaw or rickshaw-van, but they cannot do so any longer because of the curb on movement. Extreme poor Dalit and Ethnic minority people of the region, who are mostly employed in construction and property development activities (brick breaking, earth digging, etc.), are also out of work, as construction work across the country has come to a standstill. This means employment opportunity both in agricultural and service sectors are very limited or almost non-existent.
The economy of the southwestern coastal region, another Prosperity working area, centres around export-oriented fishing, soft-shell crab culturing or shrimp farming. Most of the extreme poor HHs of Gabura union of Shyamnagar Upazila in Satkhira make their living out of these aquaculture value chains as day-labourer or through running small businesses. These shrimps, crabs or eel fish are shipped mainly to Chinese and European markets. But almost all of these markets are now closed, and so are the economic activities of the region. This, together with the strict restrictions on movement, has left the extreme poor households unemployed. 
The picture is similar in the Haor region, where the Prosperity programme will cover three districts – Kishoreganj, Sunamganj and Habiganj. At the moment, most of the extreme poor people are unemployed. Harvesting of Boro rice there is expected to start by the end of April when the region usually creates employment opportunities for thousands of people of not only this area but from other districts as well. But, with a strict lockdown in place, it is not clear how these people of other districts will travel to this region during the harvesting period. More importantly, travelling in large number and working in big groups will pose a serious health threat for them. It is a double-edged sword.    
At a normal time, Micro-finance Institutions (MFIs) would support these extreme poor people by offering low-cost financial services for them to be engaged in various income-generating activities. But all such services remain suspended as all MFIs remain shut because of the lockdown. As a result, many extreme poor people will likely borrow from local lenders at high-interest rates to cope with the situation, which will have a long-term impact on their lives.
To tackle the economic crisis, the government has so far announced a number of stimulus packages worth Tk 100,000 crore [Dhaka Tribune, 16 Apr 2020], including for affected farmers, low-income and landless-homeless people and garment workers. The government will also expand its social safety net programmes, including VGD and VGF. But the support packages have yet to reach all areas of the country.

So what can we do in the immediate term?
Considering the level of the impact, the Prosperity Project Implementation Unit is exploring ways to support (food assistance/cash grant) to the extreme poor HHs in the 17 piloted unions. These vulnerable groups will include not only the HHs with very low monthly income (such as <BDT 2,500) but will also include female-headed HHs and HHs with disable or elderly persons.
There are about 35,000 extreme poor households in these 17 unions. Our initial analysis suggests that the bottom 25-30 per cent or about 8,735-10,500 households need emergency support. The Prosperity team has made a list of 500-600 such people from each of the 17 unions. At this stage, we are exploring how we can support them for at least three months with a food assistance/cash grant so they can cope with the situation. We are also planning to support these households in the form of temporary wage employment (e.g. cash for work).
Other Prosperity working areas, i.e. the rest of the 252 unions, may also be brought under such support programmes gradually if the pandemic period prolongs further.

Possible post-COVID-19 mitigation measures
But all these measures are meant to address the immediate need of the extreme poor people so they can recover from the shock; the novel coronavirus is going to affect their lives and livelihoods in months and perhaps years to come. Therefore, to mitigate the long-term impacts of the pandemic we are considering taking the following initiatives in the post-COVID-19 period:   
  1. Meet the immediate food needs of the vulnerable HHs through cash grant and/or through cash for work;
  2. Ensure their access to various social protection programmes such as VGF, VGD, ration cards, widow allowance, disability allowance, etc;
  3. Ensure their inclusion through root-level advocacy in the list of vulnerable people that the government is making in the wake of the pandemic; and
  4. Boost both farming and non-farming activities by improving employment opportunity when things return to normal. 

Prosperity partner organisations (POs) extending their support

Because of the lockdown, Prosperity’s implementing Partner Organisations have suspended all regular activities. However, the POs are running awareness campaigns and distributing leaflets describing the dos and the don’ts during the pandemic. Some POs are also distributing relief materials (rice, pulse, potatoes, edible oil, etc.) and cash as well as life-saving protective gear such as masks, soaps and hand sanitisers among the extreme poor people on humanitarian grounds. A number of partners have handed over checks to the local administration in contribution to the relief funds.
They are doing these in coordination with the local authorities, including the Upazila Nirbahi Officer as well as local elected representatives.
These POs include Gram Bikash Kendra (GBK), Eco Social Development Organisation (ESDO), Unnayan, Nawbenki Gonomukhi Foundation (NGF), Grameen Jana Unnayan Sanstha (JGUS), Thengamara Mahila Sabuj Samity (TMSS), HEED Bangladesh, Family Development Association (FDA), Rural Reconstruction Foundation (RRF), Unnayan Procesta, WAVE Foundation, Ad-Din Foundation, Community Development Centre (CODEC), People’s Oriented Programme Implementation (POPI) and SKS Foundation.
Of them, GBK has temporarily handed over an entire office building to the local administration to be used as a quarantine centre for the COVID-19 patients. TMSS, on the other hand, is providing various medical supports. It has launched a hotline number (01777-798105) where people can call to seek emergency medical assistance. Doctors from TMSS Medical College are also visiting people’s homes to provide treatment.
ESDO working to fight against the Coronavirus disease featured in Banglavision TV
Copyright © 2020 Pathways to Prosperity, All rights reserved.

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