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Mohammad Rafayat Haque Khan

A woman looks on as emergency supplies are distributed in Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus has many governments scrambling to procure resources including medicine, testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), and other essential supplies to combat the pandemic. The race to get supplies as quickly as possible has led many governments and institutions to abandon safeguards and transparency measures for the sake of expediency; this gap in oversight has presented many opportunities for criminals and corrupt officials to profit from the crisis.

In Bangladesh, government officials identified food scarcity as a major challenge in its pandemic response. Poverty and malnutrition are a fact of life for many Bangladeshis, and this vulnerable population will grow as daily wage-earners lose their jobs during the lockdown, leaving them unable to support their families. When the government began to distribute food aid to its most vulnerable populations, 600,000 pounds of rice earmarked for relief efforts was discovered missing. Dozens of bureaucrats and officials in Bangladesh have been accused of reselling relief supplies at higher prices for personal profit.

Growing corruption in the face of the current pandemic is not unique to Bangladesh. Globally, countries have spent trillions of dollars in medical investments and stimulus funding to halt the wave of infections and keep their economies afloat. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 25% of global procurement funding for developing countries is lost to corruption; without more safeguards and greater oversight, the massive influx of capital in response to the pandemic may fuel a rise in corruption worldwide.