Income generation is no longer the only way of rooting out extreme poverty; it is a 'beyond livelihoods' approach that can lead Bangladesh out of extreme poverty, analysts said yesterday.
Beyond livelihoods means that the ultra-poor people will have social and political rights, abilities to face natural disasters and the capacity to fight the impacts of climate change, an opportunity to use technology and will have access to health care facilities through proper insurance systems in addition to increased purchasing power capacity.
A decade ago, the government and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) were focusing mainly on providing income generating activities to the ultra-poor people to help them graduate from the extreme poverty level.
“We are now talking about beyond livelihoods for sustainable graduation from extreme poverty,” said Anowarul Haq, director, extreme rural poverty programme at CARE Bangladesh, presenting the findings of a six-year project -- social and economic transformation of the ultra poor (SETU). About 95 percent of households under the project have come out of extreme poverty.
“Economic wellbeing is no more the only focus for fighting extreme poverty. It has to be integrated with the concept of social inclusion and graduation from mental health burden,” said Shamim Ahmed, a public health expert and doctoral research fellow at University of Toronto, while moderating a roundtable on 'transforming frontiers of extreme poverty: beyond livelihoods', jointly organised by CARE Bangladesh and The Daily Star.
Addressing the discussion, Planning Secretary Tariq Ul Islam said the government is working with NGOs and donor agencies to fight extreme poverty, the rate of which can be brought down to almost zero by 2025 after achieving the middle-income country status by 2021.
Planning from the root level, increasing budgetary allocation for social safety net and annual development programme (ADP), and the government's efforts in bringing marginalised people to the mainstream will help the country eradicate extreme poverty, he added.
The budgetary allocation for social safety net schemes rose to Tk 43,000 crore this fiscal year, from Tk 35,000 crore a year ago, while ADP expenditure has been set at Tk 123,000 crore, up from Tk 93,000 crore, he said.
Although it was being highlighted that one crore people will remain under the extreme poverty level even if the country attains 8 percent GDP growth, the overall situation is gradually improving, he said.
“All the problems in fighting extreme poverty can be overcome, but we have to remain alert on militancy that may destroy all the successes,” Islam said.
Jamie Terzi, country director of CARE Bangladesh, said sustainable graduation out of extreme poverty is complex.
“It's not just livelihoods, it's not just about asset transfer, it's about actually taking issues like resilience and also social and political inclusion, making sure that people are included so that they connect to changes that are taking place in society,” she said.
Laurent Umans, first secretary, food security of the Netherlands embassy, said, “We need to go for a beyond livelihoods strategy, and we want to see improvements in peoples' livelihoods.”
Henrik Width, deputy head of mission of the Norwegian embassy, said his country has contributed 1.3 billion euros to Bangladesh's development over the years. “But this is now scaling down, partly because of the success of Bangladesh in fighting poverty.”
Creating its own income or using the income that has already been created is a challenge for Bangladesh, he said, adding that inequality, poor governance, resources mobilisation and fighting corruption are also other challenges in the coming years.
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said in the area of fighting extreme poverty, Bangladesh is a bright spot, as the country has done so well in achieving the millennium development goals.
“The world is praising us. But at the same time, there is so much left to be done.”
Md Shahid Uz Zaman, executive director of Eco Social Development Organisation, said creating a level of confidence or self determination among the ultra poor to fight the extreme poverty is a major challenge.
“Apart from building confidence among the beneficiaries, we need to focus on the demand of a target audience while preparing a project or policy.”
Asif Sahan, associate professor of development studies at Dhaka University, said as extreme poverty is a multidimensional problem, the involvement of multi-sectoral actors is needed to fight it. “The challenge here will be coordination between the government and NGOs.”
Md Aminur Rahman, chairman of 15 No Laxmichap Union Parishad of Nilphamari Sadar, said many families graduated from extreme poverty with the help of CARE Bangladesh's SETU project.
“Many of them now have more than one cow, their children can go to school, child marriage has stopped, they can drink safe water and most importantly, women get wages equal to men. It's possible because of the diversified income generating activities.”
Farida Begum and Md Rustam Ali, two beneficiaries of the SETU project from Gaibandha, shared their experience in fighting extreme poverty and becoming self-employed. Both took assistance from SETU and not only managed to get out of extreme poverty, but also created a position in society and made employment opportunities for a few others.
Both of them now have the confidence to continue their small businesses, even without the help or guidance from SETU or CARE. Ranjan Karmaker, executive director of Steps Towards Development, suggested the government transform the national budget into a district-based budget. “Extreme poverty cannot be addressed by the national budget.”
Stressing the need for family planning training, Shahnoor Wahid, special supplements editor of The Daily Star, said without such training, extreme poverty cannot be eradicated.
Other speakers emphasised governance issues, quality education, health insurance, involvement of rural government and long-term planning for sustainable graduation from extreme poverty.