Pandemic drives up debt for marginalised families in Bangladesh: survey

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on marginalised families in Bangladesh, with 60.5 households falling into debt despite cutting down expenditure and tapping into savings.

The findings were revealed by the study's lead researcher Estiaque Bari, a teacher of East West University, at a virtual event on Thursday.

The survey sought to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the health, finances and livelihoods of marginalised people in the country.

As many as 1,600 households across the country directly took part in the survey, with the participants answering various questions about COVID-19.

Among the participants, 82 percent of families showed an interest in getting free vaccines from the government. On the other hand, 78.7 percent said they did not 'suffer too much' from the coronavirus crisis, according to researcher Estiaque.

The report was compiled on the basis of information collected from 100 households in char, Haor (backswamp) and coastal areas of the country along with 400 slum-dwelling and 300 indigenous families.

Evaluating the study, Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the Citizens' Platform and a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, “Government support is not enough for marginalised people during the emergency. This cooperation should be multiplied.”

"This epidemic has put the disadvantaged people at even greater risk. Their problem is multidimensional. On the one hand, their income has decreased -- they are facing a food crisis -- and on the other hand, they are falling into debt.”

Debapriya suggested forming a 'solidarity fund' in the next national budget to deal with the effects of the epidemic. He said it would be possible to address the crisis facing marginalised people if the allocation from this fund was ensured based on requirements.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman, another distinguished fellow of CPD, viewed the formation of the 'solidarity fund' as a logical step and said that it would form a management structure consisting of public and private individuals. He suggested a special allocation for this in the next budget.

Responding to a question, Estiaque, the lead researcher on the survey, said the marginalised groups said they tried to adopt a balanced diet in order to survive the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic. They then stopped buying non-food products but even then, 60.5 percent of the households said they were in debt.

"In response to the question of whether they can keep up with the ongoing epidemic, 86 percent of residents in coastal areas, 87 percent of slum-dwellers and about 93 percent of micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) owners said they were having a hard time keeping up," he said.

Highlighting the research data, he added that 80.6 percent of households have reduced food expenses during the crisis. Non-food expenditure has been reduced by 64.5 percent of households.

Among the survey participants, 29.4 percent of households received financial assistance from government and private sources. Of these, 23.5 percent of families have received financial assistance from the government while 26.4 percent of households reported that they had to rely on their savings to withstand the pandemic.

On the other hand, 8.4 percent of the families have sold their livestock due to financial difficulties, with 2.9 percent of households raising money by mortgaging their land or gold.

Highlighting the results of the survey, Estiaque said that the income of 21.1 percent of people in the char areas has decreased during this period. In other areas, too, incomes have declined by 14 to 16 percent. At the same time, they have reduced spending by 8 to 10 percent.

"According to the survey, the savings of a maximum of 60 percent people have decreased," he said.