Overcoming Poverty: The Progress

Dr. Kazi S.M. Khasrul Alam Quddusi
World Bank has very recently lauded Bangladesh’s achievement in reducing poverty, especially extreme poverty which hurt the country since its inception and before. In its “Bangladesh Development Update”, released recently at a press conference in Dhaka, the Bank has also come up with the observation that Bangladesh has done an excellent job in reducing poverty over the last decades and it has the potential to end extreme poverty by 2030 if it takes firm steps to make growth more inclusive to benefit all Bangladeshis.

The report added that Bangladesh’s extreme poverty rate dropped to 12.9 per cent of the total population in 2015-16 and it came down from 13.8 per cent in the previous 2014-15.
The report further added that under the new $1.90 poverty line based on 2011 purchasing power, 28 million, or 18.5 per cent of Bangladeshis lived in extreme poverty in 2010 and more than 16 million people in Bangladesh graduated from extreme poverty between 2000 and 2010. What is, however, more striking is that Bangladesh’s achievement has surpassed India, Pakistan and Bhutan.
The report has, however, very rightly pointed out the fact that achieving the goal of reducing extreme poverty to less than 3 per cent of Bangladeshis by 2030 will necessitate economic growth becoming more inclusive with the poorest 40 per cent of society receiving greater benefits from development. And, to realise its goals of becoming a middle income country by 2021 and overcoming extreme poverty by 2030, the country needs to sustain its economic and remittance growth, create more jobs, focus on energy and transportation infrastructure, and make progress on improving the quality of health and education.

In fact, the Constitution of Bangladesh provides clear directives for formulating pro-people development strategies and goals. Bangladesh’s Constitutional guidelines are rooted in a framework that calls for raising the quality of life through a balanced and equitable growth. To fulfil the fundamental commitment, Bangladesh has undertaken a number of planned strategies to eliminate extreme poverty. For uplifting the poor section of the society, Bangladesh has also broadened the social protection strategies which impacted on poverty reduction through a series of channels.

Bangladesh, home to a huge population of around 160 million, never neglected the fact of harshness of poverty. Poverty alleviation has, therefore, been high on its development agenda as has been seen in all its plan documents. Poverty has remained the topmost important socio-economic policy challenge for Bangladesh. As said earlier, Bangladesh has made strides in reducing poverty and the decline of poverty in Bangladesh is very much attributable to the persistent engagement in poverty reduction interventions.

Social Safety Net Programmes (SSNPs) in Bangladesh address basic needs of the people namely food, shelter, education and health. The main programmes covered under SSNPs are: Food for Works (FFW), Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), old-age allowances, allowances for retarded people, allowances for widow and distressed women, grants for orphanages. There are Open Market Sales (OMS), Cash for Work (CFW), Gratuitous Relief (GR) and the 100 days employment guarantee scheme. There are also micro-credit programmes, allowances for freedom fighters and so on.

At the same time, there is consciousness and concern about the growing income inequality as well. The distribution of income is still very much unequal vis-à-vis the distribution of consumption. The growing income inequality thus remains a matter of real unease. However, there are efforts towards mitigating this problem through an array of measures such as creating better access to high productivity; income generating jobs; improving farm productivity and incomes; health, family planning; nutrition and water supply and so on.

In our country, the poor are often denied of access to markets in remote areas which hampers their economic life. However, increasing information and access can deal with exclusion at all levels. Taking this fact into cognisance, the government along with its development partners have taken up programmes to eliminate the information access barriers. Establishing UISCs (Union Information and Service Centres), DESCs (District e-Service Centres), developing market enterprise programmes to improve access for the products of individuals and collectives to local and national markets are such some notable measures.

True, Social Safety Net Programmes have played a significant role in mitigating poverty. However, their coverage still remains limited considering the extent of poverty that exists. Moreover, SSNPs cover mainly the rural poor, whereas the nature of urban poverty is more severe than rural poverty in some respects. Current social safety-nets also need coverage of marginalised groups. In passing, some groups in Bangladesh like many of the cobblers, sweepers and fishermen are living in acute poverty. Tea plantation workers are another group living for years in severe poverty.

In Bangladesh, farmers, particularly the small farmers, are largely vulnerable to various natural uncertainties, price fluctuation and low price of output. Despite the successes of SSNPs in Bangladesh, however, there have been causes of concern for some genuine reasons. Various administrative problems hinder the smooth running of the programmes. Targeting has been misplaced in some of the programmes because of manipulation by the political and local elites. Moreover, separate safety net programmes are required to alleviate poverty arising out of river erosion, salinity and arsenic pollution.

Along with governmental initiatives, private sector and individual efforts have played an equally important role in eradicating poverty in Bangladesh. While private sector is involved in changing the lot of the people through some cooperatives and micro-credit type programmes, individual endeavours are really praiseworthy. At the rural level, many families have been able to overcome poverty without much support from external sources. Engagement in small businesses based on paltry capital has turned out to be one of such endeavours.

Large-scale temporary migration to foreign countries for earning bread is another great venture which cannot be ignored in the whole scheme of things. Thus, the government’s plan to look for more employment destinations in the world is highly appreciable. Though various programmes of the government have been able to ward off extreme poverty to a great extent, foreign remittances have the potential to bring prosperity and it has already been vindicated in many areas of the country. Thus, by unison of well-executed governmental initiatives, more effective private sector engagements and sustained individual efforts, the curse of poverty can be overcome fully and pretty soon.
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong. E-mail: kkhasru@gmail.com