As the COVID-19 health crisis continues to unfold, the Bangladesh economy is also under threat of the subsequent economic crisis. This crisis is most acutely experienced by the low-income population. PPRC, in partnership with Brac Institute for Governance and Development (BIGD), has launched a research project called “Livelihoods, Coping, and Support during COVID-19’ to understand the immediate coping mechanisms of low-income people. The research intends to contribute towards better policy measures and programs for the vulnerable.
The research will be conducted in a number of phases to capture the evolving state of the vulnerable during the crisis. Through a telephonic survey targeting both urban and rural low-income populations, this study focuses on gaining insights about the mobility patterns, the experience of economic shocks, coping mechanisms and assess the specific needs of this group of people. The respondent databases were derived from previous surveys on urban slums and rural poor.
Phase I (April 2020)
The first segment of the PPRC-BIGD study, conducted at the beginning of the ‘general holidays’, surveyed a total of 5,471 households across both rural and urban Bangladesh between 4th and 12th April 2020. A team of 51 people from the two institutions contributed to the survey.
From the outset, there was a realization that COVID-19 related restrictions on physical mobility and interaction would require innovation in how the survey could be carried out. Team discussions settled on three essential pre-conditions for a successful survey:
- Access to relatively recent telephone contact data-base of urban and rural poor
- A sufficiently large contact database that, on a 50 percent response rate, would still yield a reasonably representative completed sample
- An analytically strong but short survey instrument with no open-ended questions, implementable within a maximum time of twenty plus minutes
A quantitative research method was employed with samples drawn from the urban and rural databases of previous surveys conducted by PPRC and BIGD. The source of urban slum sample is a 2016-17 census of 24,283 slum households in 25 slums across 9 districts in Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, Barisal and Rangpur. For rural areas, nationally representative (divisional level) survey of 26,925 households across 64 districts was the sample source. A sample of 12,000 households was drawn from the datasets, equally distributed among urban slums and rural areas. From these, 5,471 households responded and completed the survey.
A relatively short questionnaire of approximately 15-20 minutes, included four modules: i) mobility during the crisis, ii) impact of the crisis on their livelihoods, iii) coping mechanisms, and iv) needs and expectations on required support. Conducted via a mobile phone, the data was finally collected on a tablet using the SurveyCTO web-based platform.
The key findings of the study were revealed via a Virtual Press Conference on April 16, 2020, chaired by Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC and Dr. Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD.
Impact on Income and Employment: The study aimed to understand the economic shock experienced by people across various demographic and occupational groups. It was found that urban and rural respondents suffered an income drop of 75% and 62% respectively. 71 % of the urban respondents and 55% of rural respondents faced livelihood uncertainty.
Food Insecurity: There has been a 28% reduction in daily food expenditure in urban slums and 22% in rural areas. 24% of HHs in urban slums and 14% in rural areas reported decreasing 3 meals a day to cope. 47% HHs in urban slums and 32% in rural areas reported reducing food consumption as a coping mechanism.
Coping: It is important to understand the various coping mechanisms that are being employed by different groups. 67% of urban slum households and 83% of rural households are meeting their food need through personal savings. 38% of urban slum households and 19% of rural households reported their survival capacity on existing resources to be zero-three days (post 8th April survey). Major concerns during the crisis across all income groups were maintaining family, a decrease in income, an increase in food price, and COVID-19 infection.
Gender Impact: We wanted to capture the existence of any differences in coping and support based on gender. Compared to their male counterpart, there was a greater reduction in both food expenditure and the number of meals among female-headed households in urban slums. This difference was also noted in rural areas but in the case of the number of meals only. In addition, female-headed households reported receiving more support from the government, NGOs, neighbors, friends, and relatives.
Support: Through the research, we aimed to assess the kind of support received by the various groups and their current needs. 67% of rural HHs and 70% of urban slum HHs wanted cash support. 70% of rural HHs and 78% of urban slum HHs wanted food support.
The presentation deck below showcases the key findings from the study.
The video below summarizes the key findings from the study.
Launch of PPRC-BIGD Survey PHASE I Report on Livelihoods, Support, and Coping
The final report from Phase I of this research was presented in a Webinar – Report Launch: Livelihoods, Coping, and Support during Covid-19 on Wednesday, 20 May 2020. The detailed research findings were unveiled by Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC, and Dr. Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD.
- Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)
- Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC Bangladesh
- Professor Shamsul Alam, Member (Sr. Secretary), General Economic Division, Ministry of Planning, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
- Professor S. R. Osmani, Professor of Development Economics at Ulster University
- Professor Naila Kabeer, Professor of Gender and Development at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science
The report and the presentation deck from the webinar can be found below.
Deep and system-wide poverty impact: Urban and rural respondents suffered an income drop of 75% and 62% respectively. 71 % of the urban respondents and 55% of rural respondents faced livelihood uncertainty. The income shock also led to a contraction in consumption—food expenditure was reduced by 28% by urban respondents and 22% by rural respondents.
The initial poverty impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been more severe for the urban poor: All indicators of vulnerability as noted above indicate that the urban poor has been more severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. This is particularly an area of concern because social protection programs in Bangladesh have mainly focused on the rural poor. The Covid-19 experience needs to be leveraged to jump-start urban social protection programs in Bangladesh.
The emergence of a “new poor” class necessitates a rethinking of approaches to poverty: the rapid emergence of a class of ‘new poor’ – informal sector occupations with income above the poverty line but within a band of vulnerability is one of the most crucial findings of this study. 77% of this vulnerable non-poor group fell below the poverty line income due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
Notwithstanding the prioritization of livelihood concerns, both rural and urban respondents have also prioritized the risk of Covid-19 infection: 60%of rural respondents and 50% of urban respondents cited the infection risk as a priority concern. Poverty-impacted urban and rural households emphasize the need for both food and cash support in nearly equal measure.
Large-scale social protection support has become critical to avert widespread food insecurity. We have calculated a realistic fiscal package of BDT 4746.22 crores for a month’s support to 33 million poor and an additional package of BDT 5338.72 crores for a month’s support to 36.9 million of ‘new poor’.
Last-mile delivery challenges will be a critical issue for scaled-up social protection measures to mitigate the poverty impact of the Covid-19 crisis. For example, how to provide assistance to such a large number of people within a short time efficiently and effectively will be a critical question.
Real-time tracking of the health and livelihood impact of Covid-19 and how well personal and external support are mitigating such impact is crucial for a more effective policy response to the Covid-19 crisis. PPRC and BIGD have resolved to undertake a follow-up survey in June 2020 to generate further real-time evidence on the impact process and support dynamics.
Phase II (June 2020)
PHASE II of the PPRC-BIGD Rapid Response Research on Impacts on Livelihoods, Coping and Support during Covid-19 began on 14 June 2020. The objective of the second-round survey was to analyze the evolving nature of the economic impact of COVID-19 on the poor and economically vulnerable populations and understand the recovery journey of this demographic since the lifting of the ‘general holidays.’ The second-round survey questionnaire was designed to provide further insight into the respondents’ current state taking into account their health conditions, expenses, financial life, and perceptions on relief governance and local leadership along with their needs and expectations.
The telephonic survey took place between 20 June – 2 July and consisted of 7,638 households in total. Of these, 57.9 % were surveyed previously in April, 40.8% are new samples while 1.2% are additional new samples from CHT.
Findings from Phase II
Key insights from the second phase of the study were revealed on August 18, 2020, via a Virtual Press Conference. The findings were shared by Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC, and Dr. Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD. The research explored themes of the impact on income, employment & poverty, food insecurity, coping, support, recovery, perceptions, and delivered policy messages addressing these issues.
Depressed Incomes: Despite the resumption of economic activities, incomes in June-July on average remained 42% below pre-COVID-19 levels.
Informal occupations most vulnerable: Earnings drop between February and June for most informal occupations on average was 49% compared to 17% drop for formal occupations (factory worker, salaried jobs). To the extent stimulus worked for the poor, it benefited only the formal sector.
High food insecurity: 11% of urban poor remain below the hunger index of 3 meals a day while 30% are coping by reducing consumption and 68% eliminated meat from the diet.
Fragile recovery: Activity recovery after re-opening has only modestly reversed the steep earnings drop in April but has not translated into food expenditure recovery (only 1.7% for the urban sample).
New poor: Modest earning recovery has not reversed new poor dynamics. In June, the proportion of New Poor was 21.7%, only a small decline of 1.1% from the April rate of 22.8%.
Cash relief amount only token: Only 15.8% of the urban sample received an average of Tk 1767. This translated into a group average of Tk272.
Driven out of cities: In April, out-migration was only 6% This rose to 13.3% in June. For Dhaka alone, this was 15.6%.
Urban exit driven by 4 expenditure burdens: House rent, health costs, transport cost, and utility cost appears to be driving the urban exit.
Launch of PPRC-BIGD Survey PHASE II Report on Livelihoods, Support, and Recovery
Report from Phase II of this research was presented in a Webinar –Livelihoods, Coping and Recovery during COVID-19 Crisis on Saturday 31 August 2020. The report launch was led by Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairman, PPRC, and Dr. Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD.
Guest of Honour: Md. Tajul Islam, MP, Minister for LGRD&C
- Dr. Wahiduddin Mahmud, Economist and Former Advisor, Caretaker Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
- Dr. Shantayanan Devarajan, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Georgetown University
- Dr. Robin Burgess, Professor of Economics and Director of the International Growth Centre, LSE
- Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue
The report and the presentation deck from the webinar can be found below.