Op-Ed

Unbearable cost of living
Ali Ahmed
11 Nov,2017

It has become several years now. The lower middle class and the middle class peoples have been reeling under the intolerable weight of rising cost of living in Bangladesh. Public sufferings know no bounds. They are sighing and crying but finding no way to escape. According to the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), the cost of living for Dhaka residents has risen 71 percent over the period 2009–2016. This survey is based on a calculation of cost increases of 114 foodstuffs and 14 utility services (excluding the rise of cost in education, health and daily travel).

A decade back, a couple where the two individuals working outside could pay house rent, send their youngsters to class and keep up a sensible way of life and still had some savings. Those days appear to be gone for good. The runaway swelling with regards to the way in which our kitchen market prices actually work, the rate at which house rent seems to increase each year and the yearly hikes of utility administration costs have everything but leaves the peoples with fixed incomes in an unbearable circumstance where it becomes really untenable to live with families in Dhaka city.

CAB reinforces this with data. According to the association, the rent value of a two-room concrete house/apartment used to be Tk 10,800 in 2009 which had risen to an average of Tk 19,700 in the year 2016 (a rise of 82.4 percent in less than a decade). The cost of per unit of electricity has risen nearly 93 percent, water bill has gone up by 56 percent and increase in public transport per kilometre has gone up by 45 percent. When we look at food inflation, prices have actually risen several times each year over this period. Again, if we refer to CAB information, the price of coarse rice went up by Tk 12/kg (from Tk 23 to Tk 35) over this period and was trading at Tk 46/kg in the month of September. Mapping out all products in various categories is unnecessary to get an idea of how prices have increased exponentially over a seven-year period. Incomes unfortunately have not kept up with such increases and hence the problem. It is undeniable fact the government has miserably failed to control this situation.

The biggest casualty of all this of course is that people are unable to set aside a portion of their earnings as savings. Things are in fact at a stage that some income groups are remaining in debt across the year and hence there is no question of savings. When we couple food inflation (the highest rise) along with other indicators, Dhaka residents are in a major fix, but the lower middle class and working class are hardest hit.

When the price of utility services rises (power, water), this affects producers too. However, whatever extra costs incurred at production level are usually passed on to end users, i.e. retail consumers. But there are discrepancies here, particularly in the urban public transport sector. A fractional rise in cost of fuel is not corresponded by an equal rise in fare; it is usually much more. The same can actually be said about the pricing of products and services that an average resident uses. House rent for instance follows no set pattern and tenants are completely at the mercy of landlords.

One cannot fully explain how wholesale and retail kitchen markets work in our country. Every time we suffer a natural calamity, we find ourselves at the short end of the stick—and as pointed out above, finding out the price of coarse rice (the biggest selling segment in the rice market) going up Tk 12 per kilo in the span of a month!

The education sector, the majority of which is ruled by the private division, takes after no set example with regards to setting educational cost expenses. Beyond the regular monthly tuition fees of course is a slew of other “charges” that can range from “development fees” to whatever the institution deems fit.

It creates the impression that we have worked for ourselves a free enterprise framework which is characterized in financial matters as: "abstention by governments from meddling in the workings of the free market." That unquestionably appears to be the situation for the dominant part of Dhaka's inhabitants.

We have administrative bodies and certain principles to take care of consumer's interests. In any case, these controls are limited to print and there are not really unmistakable strides to implement them. Individuals will keep on adapting to harder circumstances—by expending less, appreciating less city facilities, getting into more debt, and so on.

Until the point that our policymakers really begin trying to do they say others should do i.e. executing laws sanctioned or manages planned to ensure consumer’s interests, individuals will be left to fight for themselves—as they generally have—and the personal satisfaction and living standard will keep on declining in Dhaka city.