DHAKA, Bangladesh — More than 21 million people surround the municipal urban center of Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a broad range of social classes inhabits the eighth-most populated nation in the world, social distancing among dense slum communities during COVID-19 in Bangladesh is near impossible. Proper sanitation has proven difficult in impoverished areas where multiple families share bathrooms and the cost of hand soap is unaffordable.
A reported 26,738 cases of COVID-19 have resulted in 386 deaths and these numbers continue to rise. The Bengali government has administered above 160,000 tests and recorded about 5,207 recovered cases, though this accounts for less than 1% of the total population.
Air Pollution and the Economy
Due to the substantial decrease in economic production and trade, along with increased travel restrictions, estimates determine that many Bengali suffer alongside the deterioration of economic growth. Recent news of police and army guards enforcing social distancing in crowded areas by shutting down local businesses has led to public disruptions.
The economy of Bangladesh is reliant upon exports of tailored and knit materials. The Bangladeshi export market continues to increase by 7.9% annually, ranking 54th out of 221 countries. A direct link between increased trade, high tobacco consumption and reduced air quality places Dhaka among the foremost polluted cities in the world.
The Bengali people combat high rates of mortality due to chronic respiratory disease from air pollution. Therefore, a greater portion of the population is at risk of experiencing life-threatening symptoms due to COVID-19. While transportation and factory operations are on hold to comply with social distancing orders, air pollution levels have dramatically reduced for the first time in years.
Sanitation and Treatment in Rural Communities
A $100 million stimulus package that the World Bank approved to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Bangladesh will work in tandem with government authorities to support the nation through health incentives. An additional stimulus package that received approval in March 2020 will assist urban youth, unemployed peoples, migrant workers and rural populations during the crisis.
The South Asia WASH Results program in Bangladesh has implemented public sanitation procedures, providing access to low-cost sewer systems in the cities of Dhaka, Chattogram, Rangpur and Barishal. Of the 21 million people in Dhaka, 40% live in communities with no access to toilets or washing areas. The Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor initiative continues to transform impoverished areas through innovative design, where sanitation and low-cost septic tank systems reduce the spread of disease due to raw sewage exposure.
Low-income citizens may receive the brunt of the economic impact of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, as well as higher risks of exposure to the virus and potential hospitalization. In rural communities where 70% of the poor concentrate, there is a significantly higher percentage of elderly people and limited access to clinics.
Reducing the Impact of COVID-19 in Bangladesh
In an effort to reduce poverty among the 13.8% of the population surviving on less than $2 per day (USD), the International Development Association has funded $11.3 billion towards economic and social infrastructure. However, estimates determine that the population of Bangladesh will increase by 3.6% annually, where “Insufficient planning and investment have resulted in increasingly severe infrastructure bottlenecks,” according to the World Bank.
The World Bank has established and funded more than 13,000 functioning clinics in the nation, providing relief to rural communities with exponential reductions in maternal mortality and increased life expectancy.
Basic clinics for COVID-19 testing are increasingly available to the public, as outside funding has allowed for longer stay-at-home orders to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. International embassies and missions abroad aggregate to provide relief in Bangladesh while the people recover at a high rate.
– Natalie Williams