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Pandemic job losses and flooding spark fears of hard times in Bangladesh

After losing his job at a garment factory in Dhaka in April as the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mohammad Sumon returned to his village in Jamalpur, about 160 kms away, hoping to support his family working as a part-time mechanic.

But severe floods that struck Bangladesh the last week of June, driven by heavy monsoon rains, are now keeping the 22-year-old from that work as well.

Instead, he finds himself stuck at home, one of millions of Bangladeshis affected by the flooding, which has hit nearly half of the country’s 64 districts and killed 41 people so far.

“My wife and I lost our jobs because the factory said they weren’t getting orders due to the coronavirus,” Sumon said.

“At my hometown I managed a job as a mechanic but that did not work because the water had risen and I couldn’t step out,” he said.

Now, with a baby daughter born just nine days ago, “I don’t know how we will manage. I am depending on a loan right now, but if things continue like this, we will be in trouble,” he said.

Low-lying, heavily populated Bangladesh is regularly hit by flooding, but experts fear the impact this year may be worse due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and floods that have lingered for an unusually long time.

Thousands of workers have been sacked from the country’s garment sector – responsible for 80% of Bangladesh’s exports – as European brands cancelled clothing orders worth millions of dollars as their shops shut due to the coronavirus.

Bangladesh, one of the biggest exporters of manpower in the world and heavily dependent on remittance, has also seen the return of thousands of its citizens from abroad as many lose their jobs in the pandemic.

Flooding has only made matters worse, government and other experts said.

“Normally, the water begins to recede after a certain point and people start going back to their homes from flood shelters,” said Sajedul Hasan, who works for the humanitarian programme of BRAC, a Bangladesh-based development organisation.

“But this time, the water level increased for a second time in July soon after it began to recede… this was because of excessive rainfall,” he explained.

A major Bangladeshi river,the Brahmaputra, has been flowing above the danger level for more than 30 days according to data from Bahadurabad station in north Bangladesh.

“This is the highest number of days that we have seen since 1998,” said A.K.M. Saiful Islam, of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

According to the country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, the water level is now receding and the situation is likely to improve by next month.

But both Islam and Hasan fear that economic hardships due to the pandemic and floods may lead more students to drop out of school, or compel families to migrate to the country’s overburdened cities for jobs, which could lead to exploitation.

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