The series of virus restrictions enforced since April have caused further erosion in people's income, breaking the short-lived period of recovery and forcing them to reduce food intake and forego protein, spot visits to working-class neighbourhoods suggest.
But compared to last year's 66-day general holiday, the government assistance, both in cash and kind, has been less and response slower this time when marginal people need the help the most, official data show.
Last year, the government provided cash assistance of Tk2,500 each to 35 lakh poor families during the general holidays declared to contain Covid-19. Later, during Eid-ul-Fitr in May that year, the government provided the same assistance to those 35 lakh families again.
Besides, 4.45 lakh tonnes of rice and 6.88 lakh packets of dry food were distributed and 1.5 lakh tonnes of rice were sold at a subsidised rate of Tk10 per kg in the open market. At that time, the ministry of disaster management also distributed Tk1,011 crore in cash assistance.
It also distributed Tk46 crore as cash assistance to teachers and employees of about 1 lakh non-MPO educational institutions.
This year saw the virus curbs enforced in phases for a total of 77 days from 5 April, with the latest round extended till 10 August being stricter amid surging cases and deaths. This time vulnerable groups of people have bled further as most of them are without jobs and incomes.
"There is no need for a survey to know that the number of poor has increased. When you go to the slum areas, you can see how the common people are living in hardships," says Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank Dhaka office.
But the responses to people's needs were less this year. The government this year provided cash assistance of Tk2,500 to 17.24 lakh day labourers, transport workers and small traders after the strict lockdown came into effect from 1 July.
The government allocated Tk150 crore for the sale of rice and flour in special OMS in urban areas from 25 July before Eid-ul-Adha.
Besides, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has allocated Tk100 crore for food assistance, Tk28 crore for cash relief and 1.34 lakh tonnes of rice and 2,000 packets of dry food to provide through the 333 helpline service.
Despite the prolonged lockdowns this year, the number of beneficiaries of cash aid has been less than half compared to last year. Sale of rice at Tk10 per kilogram has not been launched this time and the government's food aid has been reduced to a third. Apart from various programmes of the government, different organs of the government including police also distributed food assistance among the distressed people on their own, which is not seen this time.
According to the government data, the number of poor people in the country at the time of outbreak of the pandemic was about 4 crore.
Pandemic-induced shutdown last year pushed about 2-2.5 crore into poverty anew, assessed independent think tank Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC).
Many individual initiatives also distributed food and cash to the poor during the 66 days of general holiday last year besides the government.
The poor also handled the situation by borrowing money from different sources.
Multiple restrictions since April this year have eroded their coping capacity and resilience.
During this period, the government's cash and food aid decreased compared to the past, the distribution of relief from private enterprises has also come down to almost zero.
Md Ishak Khokon, chairman of Bagadana Union Parishad in Feni, said he had distributed government food relief packets, including rice and lentil, to more than 900 people during the lockdown this time. Last year he could serve about 6,000 people. "Last year there was a lot of food aid from private organisations and individuals. No such help is seen this year in my union," he said.
Economist Zahid Hussain said, "Those who live hand to mouth cannot stay at home for a day without income. Lockdown will only be successful if we can ensure cash or food assistance for them."
The number of such people would be several crores and even Tk2,500 could help them meet their demand for a few days, he said. The government should not have a shortage of funds to respond to emergency needs of people since special allocation of Tk10,000 crore is there in the budget and international agencies like the ADB and the World Bank are providing financial support.
Whatever amount of food aid is given, it is not enough in regard to the minimum food needed as assessed by the official statistical agency.
As per BBS's Bangladesh Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016, a family of four needs 1.5kg of rice or flour per day.
Many poor people have reduced their daily food intake after the harsher lockdown measures were imposed.
According to the BBS, 21.70% of the city's population reduced their food intake before the pandemic and 16.88% took low quality food to reduce costs.
In the pandemic, food intake looks even more compromised.
Akhlima Khatun (40), a city slum dweller who lost her work as a cook at a students' mess, wanted to buy potatoes for Tk10 and dried chillies for Tk5 from a vegetable vendor in the capital's Kathalbagan area. She said her family has nothing to eat at home except a few kilograms of rice and salt. That's why she came to buy a small amount of potatoes to prepare food for her husband and children.
Aklima's day-labourer husband has been without jobs for four days.
In the Panthapath area of the capital, day labourer Atiqul Islam said there was no food at home for his children and he has not received any help from the government.
Income of vegetable vendor Shahjalal dropped since the lockdown as there are few buyers in the city. He also said he is not buying any product other than rice, pulses, oil and salt to feed his family.
A previous survey of the Citizen's Platform for SDGs suggests in Bangladesh about 81% of households have reduced food costs due to the pandemic.
The survey revealed that more than 47.2% of households omitted protein from the food list.
A joint report by the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and the PPRC revealed that slum dwellers now spend 16.7% less on food purchases due to lower incomes amid Covid-19. More than 2% of them do not get food at least one day per month.
The report said 52% of households have no meat on their weekly menu, 72% of households do not get milk and 40% of families do not get fruits even one day a week.
School closure not only caused learning loss, it also deprived children of free mid-day meals, introduced in primary schools in more poverty-prone areas across the country. Under this initiative, 31.60 lakh students got lunch in the school every day, Economic Relations Division (ERD) data said.
These students are being deprived of nutritious food as educational institutions are closed due to Covid-19. In addition, a large number of students in residential madrassas were dependent on educational institutions for three meals a day. Food security of these students is also at risk as the madrassas are also closed.