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Budget fails to priorities health, hygiene: Speakers

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Staff Reporter
The finance minister’s proposed budget fell short of focusing on health and hygiene as a key priority in the post-Pandemic situation, even though the multi-sectoral damage inflicted by the virus has vividly embodied the necessity to meet the challenges in health and WASH sector, said speakers in a press conference on Sunday.
The experience of Bangladesh even only till now, has already created a strong urge to improve the country’s water, sanitation, and hygiene situation. But the proposed budget hasn’t considered a robust allocation and mechanism to meet the need, they said.
The conference was held by WaterAid, UNICEF, PPRC, FANSA-BD, WSSCC,B, FSM Network, Sanitation and Water for All, and WASH Alliance where speakers noted insufficient allocation for hygiene sub-sector which may hinder maintaining the progress towards the SDG Goals, said a press release.
During the pandemic, budget formulation in the face of declining rates of GDP growth, revenues, international trade and external remittance make it a challenge to support the growing demand for healthcare and hygiene awareness activities in order to fight COVID-19, they said.
An upfront and realistic budget reflecting economic and financial costs of the pandemic is needed, reflecting the government's approach to not only fight the virus but also contain the loss of lives and livelihoods. The proposed National budget 2020-21 is falling short in meeting the ground level realities.
A study presented at the press conference said following the legacy of previous years, the low attention in hygiene is also notable in FY 20-21 with less than 5 percent allocation in Hygiene sub-sector of the WASH budget. While budget distribution remain skewed towards urban areas.
Spatial inequities between urban and rural areas, the 4 WASAs and 11 city corporations remain constant as cities and towns continue to receive most of the funding at the expense of rural, char and hard-to-reach areas, despite acute needs. The analysis reflects the gap in service-deliveries between urban and rural areas widening over the years, revealing that that in five years’ period there happens to be almost no change in shares of urban (80% - 83%) and rural (20% -17%) allocation.
Eminent economist Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, in the press conference recommended immediate realization of the recommendations made by the network earlier this month along with prioritising hygiene as a vital tool of public health and epidemic preparedness, and invest in large-scale nationwide hygiene campaign and installation of public hand washing points with soap and water.
Hasin Jahan, Country Director of WaterAid stated, block fund kept in health budget of 100 billion taka may be used for implementation of immediate hand washing stations across Dhaka city and slum areas to provide hygiene facilities for the poor to fight COVID-19.