AS the nation waits apprehensively for the passage of the long march called by Hefajat-e-Islam and the capital city goes into lockdown for 24 hours on the evening of April 5, all eyes are now focused firmly on the political scene. The biggest blow of such strikes, showdowns and blockades has been to the economy. With the voltage running high on politics, the economy is getting relegated to the background.
We have ample reason to believe that the hammering the economy has been receiving is leaving a trail of damage that will have far reaching consequences. Numerous reports and studies by national and international agencies point to a general economic slowdown for Bangladesh due to political instability. Little however, is mentioned about how lower income groups are dealing with loss of livelihoods.
Drivers, helpers, auto-rickshaw and rickshaw pullers are all part of the daily wage earner segment. Recent hartals have caused significant damage to the transportation sector. According to a sector-wise study by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry, incomes of these groups are halved during hartal days. They have little or no alternative sources of incomes. Garments workers are no better off when factories are shut. Hawkers and vendors see their incomes go down by 50 60% on hartal days. Farmers cannot sell harvested crops to markets during hartals since middlemen cannot transport their goods to different markets. Thanks to hartals, stocks of diesel at local depots fall, so farmers cannot irrigate their crops properly. Fishermen fare no better. They are forced to sell only to local consumers where prices are significantly reduced. What it all boils down to is that unless we can find a way out of the present political climate, the economy will continue to contract and the people, particularly the lower middle class will get squeezed into joining the ranks of ultra poor.