File photo: According to a recent survey, average monthly household income fell from Tk 24,565 before the shutdown began to Tk 7,096 in May due to the Covid-19 pandemic Mahmud Hossain Opu / Dhaka Tribune
Lack of income during the pandemic has forced many people to return to rural areas, but the government has yet to take note of these ‘new poor’
Mohammad Lablu, 45, has been a driver by profession in the Agrabad region of Chittagong in a private company for 12 years. He had to quit his job in June 2020 as the company put its staff on leave due to Covid-19.
Lablu now lives in his hometown in Pakundia of Kishoreganj, earning a daily salary as an electrician.
A family of five is thus drastically downgraded in the economic misery of a family with a stable salary. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a series of tribulations affecting people like Lablu.
Migration is a very common phenomenon in the context of Bangladesh, as people tend to move from place to place in search of better opportunities.
The usual tendency is for people to migrate from rural to urban areas, usually in search of jobs, a good education or constrained by natural disasters. The country has experienced a reverse migration trend from urban to rural areas at different times of the pandemic, especially before the closures.
Reduced economic opportunities forcing migration
It is almost impossible to survive in big cities like Dhaka or Chittagong without any income, especially when people live from hand to mouth. This results in a mad rush of people to their hometown or village before each lockdown.
Globally, especially in low-income countries, 119 to 124 million people were pushed into poverty in 2020, according to a World Bank estimate.
Despite the official title of âdeveloping nationâ, the situation is no different for Bangladesh; it is rather worse than that of many other developing countries.
Much discussion continues regarding the fragile health sector amid the pandemic, but not everyone is aware of the economic turmoil caused by the consecutive closures, which have shattered countless families – especially those belonging to the informal sector.
Migration trend in 2020
The latest Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics report produced by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) shows that out-migration from urban areas was higher than from rural areas in 2020.
That year, about 37.4 people per 1,000 people entered rural areas compared to 36.4 people who left per 1,000 people. Migration from urban areas is also slightly higher than the immigration rate, which is in total contradiction with previous years.
In 2019, emigration from urban areas was 114.5 people per 1,000, compared to 117.1 entries per 1,000 people. On the other hand, rural areas experienced a higher emigration rate of 39.1 per 1,000 than immigration of 36.5 per 1,000 in 2019, as expected.
Dhaka Division experienced the highest number of emigration – 111.8 per 1,000 people and the immigration rate was 102.9 per 1,000 people. Along with Dhaka, the main divisions, such as Chittagong, Khulna, Mymensingh and Sylhet have also seen a sharp increase in immigration rather than outside.
In total, this year 69.2 people per 1,000 migrated to rural areas, compared to 68.8 per 1,000 in urban areas.
When asked why the Covid-19 situation was not considered a reason for migration in the SVRS report, the Bangladesh Vital Statistics Situation Monitoring Project Director (MSVSB) and BBS joint director AKM Ashraful Haque said: Covid-19 does not fall within the focus of our investigation. We only produce data; it’s up to data researchers and users to find out why they migrated. “
“Complete research on current events, with various questionnaires and survey analyzes are necessary to face the impacts related to Covid”, he added.
Although the report does not address the Covid-19 pandemic, Mohammad Mainul Islam, migration expert and professor in the Department of Population Sciences at the University of Dhaka said: âIndicators like ‘joining the family’, ‘looking for a job’ even ‘marriage’ [in the report] indirectly indicate that Covid-19 is the reason for the unusual migration that has taken place since last year. “
âEmigration is also higher for people who have come to join their families because they cannot survive in their workplace. That way, at least, they can secure the food on their plates. It is almost impossible for people of low socio-economic status to survive in cities. “
On the verge of a major economic imbalance
As a common phenomenon, people migrate from rural to urban areas in search of good fortune. But according to experts, the reverse is not considered a good sign as rural areas lack the capacity to provide facilities to such a large population.
Selim Raihan, Executive Director of the South Asian Economic Modeling Network (Sanem) and Professor of Economics at Dhaka University said: âUrban areas are highly concentrated areas of informal workers, who are most affected by the pandemic. But this reverse migration puts additional pressure on the rural labor market, which is already overcapacity.
People who migrated from urban areas were mainly employed in the daily work or service sector – while there is no demand for these types of jobs in rural areas.
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A South Asian Economic Modeling Network (SANEM) survey released in March 2021 said about 49% of internal migrants affected by the pandemic returned to their roots last year due to massive job cuts, the non-payment of wages and lower wages.
âReverse migration is an adaptation strategy; it never brings good economic results because it is a kind of forced migration. And forced migration leads to the collapse of the market economy, âhe added.
Possibility of transforming into permanent migration
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said during this year’s budget session in parliament that the government has no official data on the new poor and that is why this part of the population is deprived of any government stimulus.
âRapid Assessment: Needs And Vulnerabilities Of Internal And International Return Migrants In Bangladesh,â a survey report released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), states that around 72% of returning internal migrants affected by Covid- 19 received no assistance from the government.
When asked if reverse migration could turn into permanent migration, Professor Mohammad Mainul replied: âFor a migration to be considered permanent migration, the person must reside in a certain place for at least six years. month.
âThe BBS should have included the raw country-wide migration resulting from Covid-19 only in its report. He could even have opted for a separate research because he has the resources and the network to do so. “
Selim Raihan from Sanem believed that the chances of permanent migration depended solely on economic recovery. A portion of those who migrated would return for better opportunities, but if the recovery process took longer, another section would definitely reside in the migrated areas permanently.