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As COVID-19 continues to spread across international borders, vulnerable communities are disproportionately at risk. BRAC conducted a rapid perception survey to capture the level of awareness among households of low incomes, and the economic impact on livelihoods.
The survey comprised 2,675 respondents across all 64 districts of Bangladesh. Questionnaires were collected by BRAC staff from across all 64 districts of Bangladesh between 31 March to 5 April 2020.
What people know so far
Almost all respondents (99.6%) said that they are aware of the disease. Two-thirds (66%) first learned about the virus through television. However, the vast majority of respondents are dealing with misinformation about the virus and how to cope once infected. Approximately 36% of the respondents (16% in rural areas and 56% in urban) do not know how to prevent getting infected. The level of awareness also differs between genders: men are more informed (60%) about whom to contact or where to do if one gets infected by coronavirus compared to women (38%).
BRAC sees decentralisation of testing and treatment to be one of the ways to reduce such concerns in rural areas, while stronger awareness campaigns focusing more on treatment and management, rather than the disease itself can dispel misinformation.
Reaction to government response
68% of the people support government measures, that is, declaration of the public holiday to contain COVID-19.
Majority (64%) of the respondents felt that the government is doing enough to tackle the epidemic, though 31% in rural areas and 40% of respondents in urban areas disagreed. However, only 4% of the respondents, almost exclusively in urban areas, have received any emergency relief support as of 5 April 2020.
As much as half of the respondents (50% in urban and 44% in urban) prefer food as the most urgent form of support while 20% (19% in rural, 20% in urban) prefer support in cash.
Pandemic and poverty
Among the people surveyed, 24% were living in extreme poverty before the pandemic. This has now gone up by 60% – more than 80% of the people surveyed can now be considered to be living in extreme poverty.
The average income of the total pool of respondents saw a 75% drop. While the average income was BDT 14,599 before the pandemic, in March, the figure stood at BDT 3,742.
Almost all the respondents (92%) have had their incomes affected. Approximately two-third (72%) have lost their jobs and are currently unemployed. People living in rural areas are losing out more on their monthly income than people living in cities, which may be explained. Rural areas may be feeling the brunt because of the mass migration that took place after the lockdown. The excess number of returnee labourers have significantly lowered wage rates.
The graph below shows the average reduction in income of people in the informal sector.
The agricultural value chain must be sustained. BRAC recommends targeted efforts to stabilise demand. Rural businesses need to be able to access finance to restart. While the prime minister of Bangladesh has assured subsidised bank credit for such businesses, we may have to think of out-of-the-box solutions to bridge the gap between the banks and micro-enterprises.
No food on the table
Almost half of the total respondents said they do not have enough food. The outcome of this could mean a humanitarian disaster, which could potentially force people out of their homes and worsen the outbreak. Providing food assistance to households as quickly as possible is critical.
When asked what they had been doing since the lockdown began, two-thirds of the respondents said they had been at home, unemployed. Out of the rest, a majority said they had a job, but were not getting their salaries.
What does the future hold?
More than a third (36% of the respondents) said they do not have a plan on how to cope if the crisis continues. The survey finds one-fourth of the respondents (23%) expect public relief. Others plan to cope by taking credit (19%), or by selling their assets (4%).
Read the full survey here.
Luba Khalili is a deputy manager at BRAC Communications. Sameeha Suraiya is lead content strategist at BRAC Communications.