Some 80 percent of people interviewed by the World Food Program say the high price of food is ‘the biggest blow’
Bangladeshi women are seen cooking inside a makeshift community kitchen in a slum in Dhaka, in this photo taken in 2012. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Suman Haldar, a Catholic who runs a small grocery store in a Bangladesh village, is feeling the pinch thanks to skyrocketing prices and falling income which has led to the rationing of food in his six-member household.
“I could afford chicken once a week even during the Covid pandemic, but now it’s become difficult to have it even once a month,” the 37-year-old father of two told UCA News.
Haldar lives with his wife, kids and elderly parents in Baniarchar, a village in Gopalgonj district, in the southern part of the country. Worse is the situation of some 33 million people, who are estimated to be living below the poverty line in Bangladesh.
“Six months ago I used to earn more than 15,000 taka (US$145) per month, but now I struggle to make 8,000 taka,” he said, adding how his family was surviving on rice and vegetables grown on a tiny plot of family land covering about one-tenth of a hectare.
“Most customers buy things and promise to pay later. Some fail to pay as promised”
He worries about buying medicines for his parents and meeting the educational expenses of his sons — 16-year-old Romeo is studying in the eleventh grade while 12-year-old Rahul is in the seventh grade.
“Since the prices of food items are increasing by the day, it is becoming extremely difficult for me to buy anything. I even avoid things like tea and biscuits,” Haldar said.
But it’s not just him. Even the regular customers at his grocery store are spending less and less.
“Most customers buy things and promise to pay later. Some fail to pay as promised. But I understand their financial situation is the same as mine,” he added.
These are uncertain times in Bangladesh and ordinary people like Haldar worry that they may have to go without food in the future.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in its latest report, said that Bangladesh is suffering from severe localized food insecurity owing to economic constraints, refugee influx, floods and high prices of important food items.
“Food insecurity, as well as poverty levels, has increased due to income losses caused by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Floods from May to July affected a large number of people, causing deaths, damages and destruction to agricultural infrastructures as well as losses of livestock and food stocks,” the FAO said in its quarterly global report.
Along with the increase in the price of fuel, inflation has increased leading to an increase in the prices of other essential commodities like rice, flour, oil, and pulses, the report added.
In September, 37 percent of Bangladesh’s 165 million people saw their incomes fall, said a World Food Program (WFP) report titled “Food Security and Vulnerability Monitoring in Bangladesh”, which was released in Dhaka on Nov. 22.
The WFP report said 80 percent of 1,200 people interviewed said the biggest blow for them at this time is the high price of food. This is followed by rising fuel prices and transportation costs, illness and medical expenses, and natural disasters.
“The government should pay attention to ensuring that people get nutritious food”
The WFP identified four types of assistance people need now — 42 percent of people were in need of food aid, 46 percent needed livelihood, 26 percent health care, 17 percent education, and 9 percent housing.
Professor Nazma Shahin of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University told UCA News that in the midst of a financial crisis, people cut down on buying nutritious food and tend to buy less expensive food. These foods are usually low in nutrients and high in carbohydrates, which hinder a person’s healthy growth.
“The government should pay attention to ensuring that people get nutritious food, even if they can’t eat meat or fish, at least they can eat eggs and pulses,” Professor Shahin said.
Farida Akhtar, 29, a mother of three from the Sylhet district in northeastern Bangladesh, told UCA News that their lives had become miserable due to recurring floods since last year.
Her husband Samsul Alam, 35, who is a field worker with a non-government agency, is the only earning family member.
“I struggle to meet essential expenses of the family. We have cut down on our fish and meat intake,” she told UCA News.
Professor Mohammad Alamgir who teaches economics at Khulna University said if these daily problems persist for the common people, then it could give rise to multiple social problems in the near future.
“Rising prices are an issue, but our government should also prevent corruption in the country,” he said.
Finance Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal is pinning hopes on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after having reached a preliminary agreement with the global lender on Nov. 9 for a US$4.5 billion support package to stabilize Bangladesh’s economy and protect its vulnerable people.
Citing the bleak global economic scenario, the minister said that Bangladesh too is feeling the heat. “The IMF loan was sought as a precaution to ensure that the ongoing tension does not intensify the crisis,” Kamal said.
The first installment of US$447.8 million is expected in February next year, followed by the disbursal of six equal installments of US$659.18 million by December 2026, the minister added.