How food delivery men survive Dhaka’s storms

Previously Published: The Business Standard

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Hasan had been stranded for hours, his jumbo-sized backpack now resting against his arm.

The rain continued to batter the surroundings around him, with Hasan seeking shelter at the nearest shade.

His parcel, a hot meal, was slowly turning cold. As impatience grew on the other side of his phone, Hasan’s countenance was a mixture of anxiety and frustration.

“My bike is wedged in the water reaching up to its exhaust,” Hasan, a university student by day and a food delivery man by night, said, his eyes glazed with the shadows of past memories.

“You start to question your choices; your safety. However, the thought of failing a hungry customer waiting on their meal…that’s not an option.”

A group of resilient individuals wage daily battles against unrelenting torrential rains battering the capital, braving waterlogged streets and gridlocked roads to ensure timely delivery of hot meals to your doorsteps.

As they trudge through the roads on bicycles, their backpacks around them, these food delivery men have become an emblematic picture of perseverance against nature, a constant battle in the climate change hotspot known as Bangladesh.

While rains trap people in homes, offices, or traffic, these aren’t options for folks like Hasan.

Their income is heavily reliant on successful deliveries. A food delivery man on average is paid by distance and successful delivery, earning approximately Tk700-800 for 10 hours of work. 

Each day, Hasan confidently navigates the labyrinthine streets of Bangladesh’s capital, undeterred by the obstacles that arise at every turn. His daily routine shifts from lectures and books to the whirring wheels of his delivery motorbike, a routine that is under perpetual threat from Dhaka’s recent, unrelenting downpours.

A debilitating delay

Over the past few weeks, Dhaka has been a stage to the wrath of nature in the form of persistent and frequent torrential downpours.

Just a week ago on 21 September, the capital experienced a nightmarish scenario as 14 hours after the rain stopped, many areas in Dhaka, including Azimpur, New Market, Bangshal Road, Old Dhaka, Jurain, Badda, Mirpur-12, Mirpur-2, Dakshin Khan reportedly were still underwater.

Rain water entered in many roadside shops in the city. This photo was taken from a shop in Zafrabad, West Dhanmondi on Thursday (21 September). Photo: Md Tajul Islam

This widespread waterlogging poses a formidable challenge to delivery men navigating these sea-like streets on their two-wheelers.

“The moment we accept an order, an invisible clock starts ticking. Under clear skies, it’s a race against time. But when it’s pouring, time is not the only foe,” Hasan said.

During heavy rain, every delivery carries the added concern of orders being cancelled, subsequent reductions in their commission, and the risk of receiving poor customer reviews.

“There’s this cold dread when the rain starts falling – not for me, but for the food I’m carrying. There are some customers who lose patience when we make a little delay. They may even cancel orders or express frustration…,” he lamented.

Each cancelled order due to delays translates to lost income, and every negative review further affects their livelihoods. This is the harsh reality these riders face on rainy days.

Another delivery man, Sanjib recounted: “Few days back in the evening when the West Rajabazar area of Dhanmondi was half sunk in the water, I had to deliver food on foot, walking a kilometre or so in waist-deep water. The food reached late, cold… but it reached. I stumbled that day, but I didn’t stop.”

Every successful food delivery under the turbulent skies of monsoon marks a small victory for them.

Continuing from Sanjib’s experiences, Rasel, another delivery man, offers a somewhat distinct yet equally challenging viewpoint.

“Each delivery cancelled due to the delay imposed by rains equates to lost income. Those cancelled orders or bad reviews haunt me more than the daunting, waterlogged pathways,” Rasel shares ruefully.

These financial setbacks echo deeper into the lives of these riders.

The cost of resiliency

It’s not easy living on a daily income, more so in times of raging inflation.

“Every penny counts in this city,” says Hasan. His part-time delivery job supplements the tuition fees paid by his parents as they can only afford to cover his those, leaving him responsible for his own living expenses.

The delivery job is a lifeline, Hasan feels.

“I adhere to a strict budget. An unexpected rain is an unexpected expense. It’s the same sinking feeling,” says Hasan.

Food delivery rider caught in traffic jam at Banglamotor under the blazing sun. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof/TBS

Sanjib, whose household depends on his earnings, mirrors Hasan’s anxieties on a more amplified scale. “Each low-earning day due to rain pushes the needle on our home budget. It’s a silent storm in my head on those rainy days – would we have enough for tomorrow?”

Rasel, despite having a daytime job, relies on his food deliveries to make ends meet. “Every additional taka I earn counts in the steep rents and soaring prices of Dhaka.”

Their struggle against unpredictable weather and economic vulnerabilities paints a portrait of resilience on Dhaka’s canvas, eloquently narrated through the stories of Hasan, Sanjib, and Rasel, along with many others navigating similar challenges in their daily lives.

In the midst of flooding streets, mounting challenges, and the fluctuating nature of their earnings, they stand as a testament to Dhaka’s enduring spirit.

“Every paddle through the flooded streets, every successful delivery is our testament that we, Dhaka, and its people are resilient,” Hasan concludes.