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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 23, New Delhi, May 23, 2020

COVID -19: Repercussions on the Human Security of Bangladesh

Saturday 23 May 2020

by Debtanu Majee

Introduction

The outbreak of COVID-19 in December at the Wuhan province of China escalated a new crisis of human security. Being a communicable disease it has spread globally and was termed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. With no exceptions, the people of Bangladesh are also infected by COVID-19. As a result, the country was shut down from 26th March 2020. In this article, it is argued that the occurrence of COVID-19 in Bangladesh will enhance the problems related to human security. An immediate impact will be on the health security of the country and gradually the economic and food security will be jeopardized. Therefore hypothetically it can be stated that human security in Bangladesh is going to face a major challenge due to this pandemic.

The country has passed many difficult times due to political instability and natural disasters. Political violence, terrorism, fundamentalism coupled with cyclones, droughts, and famines ravaged human security in Bangladesh. But the emergence of COVID-19 provided a new dimension to the problems of human security in Bangladesh. Communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and dengue were prevalent in the country but they have never engendered a total shutdown. Thus the challenge of COVID-19 is different and it is perceived to bring a change in the policies of the government in the coming days to prioritize human security needs. Implications of COVID-19 on the health, economy, and food security of the country are massive.

Proximity of the Population can Jeopardized Health Security

Bangladesh is home to nearly one hundred sixty-four million people. Furthermore, the population density of the country is 1265.19 km2 (World Population Review 2020). In recent times, Bangladesh though has been successful in reducing the mortality rate of the children and maternal women along with improvements in the immunization coverage, the country lacks adequate health infrastructure. Communicable disease like COVID-19 can get transmitted very easily in a country like Bangladesh due to the proximity of the population. Physical distancing is not feasible in the overpopulated slum areas of the country. Previously also Bangladesh failed to tackle the issues related to communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and dengue. In the year 2019 all the districts of Bangladesh were periled by dengue fever which escalated a crisis of health security (Mammon, Misty, Griffiths, and Goal). Similarly the increasing COVID-19 cases are also going to cause health insecurity in the country. As of 27th April 2020, the total number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Bangladesh are 5,416 and 145 people have died in the country due to this pandemic (World Health Organisation, 2020). The mortality rate due to COVID-19 is related to the age of the person. Persons belonging to the 80+ age group are more vulnerable to this disease while the population belonging to below 50 age group are at less risk of being infected. (For more details please see table 1.1). It can be estimated that Bangladesh being a country with a young population will have fewer deaths but the chances of getting infected with the disease are more. Lack of sanitation among the people of Bangladesh increased their chances of being contaminated with COVID-19. Furthermore, the people of Bangladesh also lack hygienic senses. Prior to eating they do not wash their hands properly. In this context, it is pertinent to mention that in a research study it was found that only 1% of the population uses soap and water to wash their hands before having foods. In the same research, it was claimed that 0.7 % of mothers wash their hands with soap and water before feeding their children and 25% of people after defecation (Shewa B Programme Health Impact Study Report 2014). Diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, and chronic respiratory diseases are common among the people of Bangladesh (Muhammad, Chowdhury, Arifuzzaman, and Chowdhury 2016). So the people already victims of these diseases are at high risk of getting infected with COVID-19. If the number of cases increases in Bangladesh the government will find it difficult to address the COVID-19 patients adequately and as a result, the health security of the people will be endangered. It has been found in many previous studies that the patients were not treated properly in Bangladesh due to a lack of health infrastructure. However, if Bangladesh fails to tackle the corona infected patients adequately by keeping them in isolation wards and following the measures suggested by World Health Organisation the mortality rates will exacerbate. It has also been reported that due to lack of testing kit in the country aggressive testing was not possible at the initial stage. However, the Gono Shasthaya Kendra in Bangladesh developed a low cost corona testing kit which is expected to facilitate the testing of corona virus in the country. At the moment lack of awareness is also observed as a problem related to the maintenance of health security. Mass gatherings were prevalent even after the eruption of COVID-19 in the country. If the citizens do not follow the measures implemented by the government to stop the dissemination of the virus, consequences will be direful. A few days back when I asked some Bangladeshi people about COVID-19 situation in their country they opined that only Allah can save them. They were depressed with the lack of health infrastructure in their country. Some of them also pointed to the fact that public hospitals cannot manage if the number of corona infected patients increase. Furthermore, in a country like Bangladesh where many people are struggling to fight against poverty it will be tough for them to get admission in private nursing homes if the public hospitals fail to treat them. Private nursing homes are expensive to afford for these poor people. Rural areas of the country are going to face more trouble. In my opinion the village clinics operating in Bangladesh are lacking capacity to treat corona virus infected patients. Maintaining health security was always a challenge for Bangladesh since its inception. The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh is going to intensify the crisis of human security.

Table: 1.1

AGE DEATH RATE

confirmed cases

DEATH RATE

all cases

80+ years old 21.9% 14.8%
70-79 years old 8.0%
60-69 years old 3.6%
50-59 years old 1.3%
40-49 years old 0.4%
30-39 years old 0.2%
20-29 years old 0.2%
10-19 years old 0.2%
 0-9 years old no fatalities

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/ , accessed on 27.04.2020

Growing Economy of Bangladesh will be Disrupted

Bangladesh achieved significant development in the realm of economy recently by lowering the poverty level and maintaining the GDP growth. But at present the country is observing lock down like most of the countries in the world. The GDP growth rate of the country will be severely affected as a consequence of this lock down (World Bank 2020).It is observed that the export industry of the country has become dysfunctional because of lock down. Informal sector consists 90% of the workers in Bangladesh and it is not possible for them to work from home due to absence of internet connectivity (Islam and Divadkar 2020). Collapse of trade and economic activities engendered by the pandemic is escalating a tremendous economic crisis. Unemployment rates will also increase. People working in the garments sector are already in fear of losing their jobs as the demands for manufactured goods are decreasing both at national and global level. According to World Bank the poor will face more economic hardship (World Bank 2020 : Press Release). Economic inequality in the society will upsurge as a result of the pandemic. People working in the transport, retail trade and hospitality sector are going to experience economic insecurity. The economy of the country also relies on the service sector and at the moment the sector is struggling to coup up with the lock down. One of my friends from Dhaka said that the streets are mostly empty and the flow of goods and finance has reduced significantly. Think of a rickshaw puller who earns 400 taka a day at normal times is earning nothing at the moment. How much savings did he have to feed his family? Following the safety measures will require him to use hand sanitizer and mask which seems to him a luxury at the moment. The growing economy of Bangladesh is going to be jolted due to this pandemic. It is anticipated that the rising economic crisis in the coming days will upset the possibilities of the growing economy of Bangladesh.

Possibilities of Food Insecurity

Food security is an important perquisite for maintaining human security. Addressing the issue of food shortage caused by the lock down procedures is not going to be easy. Even the post COVID-19 world will engender mass starvation as the people will lack the purchasing power to buy foods. Some experts are also of the opinion that the country may face food insecurity due to lack of availability of foods. David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme advocated the possibility of a famine if the countries of the world cannot adequately address the problems related to disruption of trade and funding shortfalls( World Food Programme: Press Release). In the context of Bangladesh the risk of famine cannot be undermined. However the Prime minister of the country Sheikh Hasina in her thirty one directives to tackle corona virus advocated that in order to maintain food security, food production system should not be stopped and all the lands must be cultivated. It can be argued that the possibilities of the food insecurity will depend upon the production system and the economic status of the population. Earlier we have observed the 1974 famine in Bangladesh was engineered artificially (Seabrook 2001: 11). Political leadership of the country will have to play a pro active role to save Bangladesh from any kind of artificial famine. By an artificial famine I mean that the food though available to feed the population is not distributed to them due to naive market policy. It is observed during lock down due to economic hardship many people are unable to eat sufficiently twice a day. The government is though helping the poor by providing relief it is claimed that most of this relief items are distributed disproportionately. Corruption is one of the features of Bangladesh’s administration and they are indulging corrupt practices even at a time of major humanitarian crisis. The consequences of COVID-19 are not only endangering health security but the economic and food security of the countries are also jeopardized and Bangladesh is no exception to that.

Conclusion

The lives of the marginalized section will be disrupted the most due to this disease. In other words, social structural and power relations in society will also determine the severity of the pandemic to the lives of the people. The only optimism for Bangladesh is that the country has always turned up at the moment of crisis. They have innovated strategies to deal with humanitarian crisis many times before. More state intervention is needed to deal with this crisis of human security. Access to food and income should be ensured by the government at this hard time. This pandemic has falsified the limited role of the state propagated by the neo-liberal theorists and clearly made visible the need for a welfare state. In the arena of security studies it is assumed a dramatic change will take place in the post COVID-19 world. The concept of human security though emerged in the post cold war phase it was hardly prioritized at the policy level by the government of the countries. They focused gathering arms and strengthening the state security system. But now it is high time to realize the fact that human security needs to be prioritized at the policy level along with state security. In the context of Bangladesh also it is pertinent to mention that the state must employ a humanitarian approach at this hour of crisis to save the people of Bangladesh.

References

World Population Review (2020), https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/bangladesh-population/ , accessed on 26.04.2020

Mamun, A, Mohammed, Jannatul Mawa Misti, Mark D Griffiths and David Gozal (2019): “The Dengue Epidemic in Bangladesh: Risk Factors and Actionable Items”, Lancet, 14th December

Shewa B Programme Health Impact Study Report (2014): https://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/WASH_SHEWA-Bangladesh_health_impact_eval.pdf, accessed on 26.04.2020

 Muhammad, Faisal, Moniruddin Chowdhury, Mohd Arifuzzaman and ABM Alauddin Chowdhury (2016): “Public Health Problems in Bangladesh: Issues and Challenges”, South East Asia Journal on Public Health

Speedometer (2020): https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/ , accessed on 28.04.2020

World Bank (2020) : Press Release ,”Bangladesh Must Ramp Up COVID-19 Action to Protect its People, Revive Economy” , https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/04/12/bangladesh-must-act-now-to-lessen-covid-19-health-impacts , accessed on 28.04.2020

Islam, Tanjeb, Sheikh and Divadkar, Nitin, Yash (2020): “How Bangladesh’s Leaders Should Respond to The Economic Threats of COVID-19”, World Economic Forum Report, 13th April. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-coronavirus-bangladesh/ , accessed on 28.04.2020

World Food Programme (2020) : Press Release , “ WFP Chief Warns of hunger pandemic as COVID-19 Spreads” , https://www.wfp.org/news/wfp-chief-warns-hunger-pandemic-covid-19-spreads-statement-un-security-council , accessed on 20.04.2020

Seabrook, Jeremy (2001): Freedom Unfinished: Fundamentalism and Popular Resistance in Bangladesh Today, Zed Books Ltd, London, p.11

Debtanu Majee is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science . Bidhan Chandra College affiliated to University of Calcutta, Rishra, Hooghly, West Bngal
PhD Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Kazi Nazrul University, Asansol
Email id : debtanu.polsc[at]gmail.com

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