Corona : Bangladesh could fare relatively better
Many people assume that Bangladesh is a sitting target for coronavirus, with potentially millions of deaths leading to an impoverished and destabilised country just around the corner. After all Bangladesh is a very overpopulated country with over 160 million people living in a territory comprising barely 55,000 square miles. Indeed, there is no other example in the world of so many people living so close in such a small space Thus, the worst might happen but there are also reasons to think that Covid-19 could have less of an impact on Bangladesh thanwhat many fear.
Bangladesh brings to mind images of huge cities with teeming slums, poverty, poor sanitation, and disease although there is also the other side of a great many number Bangladeshis living in affluence and comfort . Surely, this means that if and when the virus gets a proper hold here , Bangladesh could suffer death rates and economic and social dislocation like that experienced in developed countries.
What’s more, these dislocations could further exacerbate the many security problems faced by this country. Could Covid-19 destabilise Bangladesh for example?
The consequences of the Covid-19 crisis have a long time to play out. But one thing we do know is that coronavirus can strike the world in unexpected ways. Indeed, there is a possibility that Bangladesh and South Asia could come through the crisis, if not relativelyunscathed, then perhaps less damaged than other parts of the world.
Demography alsofavours this outlook. Bangladeshis areamong the youngest in the population compared to many countries ; their vulnerability to corona virus is much less than the relatively much older population of most developed countries. Bangladesh has only 5-8 per cent of its population aged over 60 years whereas, for example, nearly 40 per cent of the population in Italy are senior citizens.
Let’s look at different aspects of the crisis for Bangladesh – health, social order, economics, and security.First is health. Despite its massive populations, total cases of official deaths in Bangladesh ( below 2 thousands) so far are conspicuously much lower than say, USA, where over one lakh 18 thousands have already died . Some experts credibly speculate that tropical countries –getting much greater sunshine– and heat will fare better than temperate countries because viruses like corona simply perish fast in hot climate. Therefore, Bangladesh could gain from this climatic factor.
Second, what could the Covid-19 crisis mean for social order and political stability in Bangladesh? Anecdotally we are not seeing reports of runs on basic commodities or the equivalent of the toilet paper wars that afflicted Australia’s supermarkets. Although the poor in Bangladesh have fewer resources for social welfare, Bangladesh could also in fact have greater social resilience than many rich countries. People heregenerally rely less on the state and may have more experience in dealing with disasters. Strong social and religious traditions could also provide a valuable reservoir to help resilience.
Third,what are the economic consequences from measures taken to curtail the spread of the virus, including for food security. Bangladesh has experienced relatively high economic growth for several years, although this has been slowing only very recently from corona threat. But its economy appears to have all round capacities to be able to swiftly bounce back once the threat subsides.
Despite endemic food security issues in many countries Bangladesh today overall produces food surpluses . It can be expected to be relatively resilient to disruptions in global food supply chains. It also has a long establishedsystem for government supported food distribution to the poor.
Last, is regional security. The consequences of the Covid-19 crisis for security and regional relationships will likely play out over a period of years, with many unexpected second and third order effects. But these could potentially be less adverse in South Asia.