World

In Bangladesh, coronavirus wreaks havoc on livelihoods, turning back economic gains

Once one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh has made considerable progress over the past decade. Its economy grew at an average of 6.5 percent, and 15 million people were lifted out of poverty. The country even topped its more powerful neighbor, India, on some key human development indicators.

Now, the novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to undo years of progress.

Turjoy Chowdhury

With more than 250,000 coronavirus infections, the virus has strained the country’s already limited health-care infrastructure.

And for millions of daily wage workers, the months of lockdown have dealt a crippling blow. The International Monetary Fund has called the current moment the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Turjoy Chowdhury

Photographer Turjoy Chowdhury documented the unfolding crisis on the streets of his neighborhood, Dhanmondi, in central Dhaka, in June.

What he found were “sad and heartbreaking” stories of people forced to risk their lives to earn money in an unsparing pandemic.

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Rubel, 55, has been a waste-picker for 41 years. He has a wife and three kids.

Before the lockdown, he earned between 500 and 600 taka a day (around $6 to $7). Now, he makes less than 200 taka (a little less than $2).

“Generally, while walking on the street, I used to find cardboard, plastic bottles, glass bottles, many more things,” he said. “Now I cannot even find plastic bottles. Sometimes I read the newspaper or ask other people about this pandemic. I came to know that the infected cases are rising day by day.“

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Mohammad Azizul Islam, 32, sells vegetables. He has a wife and two children and also cares for his mother.

He used to work in a garment shop, but the pandemic forced him to change profession. He now makes less than 500 taka a day (less than $6).

“I used to have a business of “Jhut” (garments) in Gazipur,” he said. “I was doing business with Chinese dealers. When this pandemic started, all my deals were canceled. With one of my friends, we decided that for the time being, we will sell vegetables. Right now, my income is not even close to half of what I used to earn. This lockdown is a big problem. We all are victims of the situation right now.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Liton, 45, has been a rickshaw driver for 14 years.

He has a wife and two children, and he also cares for his mother. Before the lockdown, he made 400 to 500 taka a day (up to $6) but now makes less than a third of that.

“It is a very difficult time. Since all the schools and colleges are closed, there are no passengers. I feel scared because of the pandemic. Honestly, I don’t feel like going out of my house, but what to do? I have to earn something.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Mohammad Moklesur Rahman, 54, has been driving a gas-powered rickshaw for 35 years. He has a wife, four children and a mother to care for.

Before the lockdown, he made between 700 and 800 taka (around $8 to $9) a day. Now his income is less than 300 taka a day (less than $4).

“The situation is very bad — I hardly can manage the rent. In the lockdown, I had been roaming around the whole city, but it was tough to find a passenger. I am always keeping a Savlon spray in my auto-rickshaw. Whenever I take a passenger, I always spray it in my vehicle before and after the trip.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Rehana Parveen, 40, is a maid. She lives with her husband and their three children.

Before the lockdown, she used to make between 12,000 and 15,000 taka a month (around $140 to $175). But now, she’s not allowed to enter most apartments because of the pandemic, and her monthly income has fallen to less than 4,000 taka (less than $50).

“Because of the pandemic, my husband lost his job and I am the only earning member of my family. We are somehow surviving. But we cannot go on like this for long. The biggest fear is the virus right now.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Zahid, 37, sells chickens and lives with his parents and wife.

He used to price chicken at 180 taka ($2) per kilo, but during the lockdown, he couldn’t get more than half that price.

“When the pandemic started, there was a rumor that the virus came from birds and animals,” he said. “People stopped buying chicken. The situation became really difficult for small-business men like me. But I am happy that now my business is getting back to normal. People are buying broiler chickens again.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Mohammad Helal, 60, has been selling fruits for 27 years. He has a wife and five children.

Before the lockdown, he said, he used to earn between 7,000 and 10,000 taka (up to $120) a day. Now, his income has been cut in half.

“Previously, people used to gather in front of my cart, bargain and buy fruits together,” he said. “That time the business was very good. Now the street is mostly empty. Some people stop their cars and buy fruits from a distance. Some send their caretakers from the buildings to buy some. That’s it.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Abul, 23, is a street hawker, selling betel leaf and cigarettes.

Before the lockdown, he made up to 700 taka (about $8) a day, but now he can hardly earn 400 taka ($5).

“I don’t think much about this virus or the future. Life goes on,” he said. “I have lands and properties back in my village. I don’t need to worry about my family. Even if I cannot run my business, it is not a big deal for me. I will go to my village and live there.”

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury

Turjoy Chowdhury