An additional push can help Bangladesh bring down the number of urban extreme poor across the country by 2021, a leading economist said yesterday.
Bangladesh had 7.7 percent urban extreme poor in 2010, according to the government's statistical agency.
Binayak Sen, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies or BIDS, said the number came down to 4.98 percent in 2016, as per his own projection.
“So, urban extreme poverty eradication is around the corner, with a little extra push, before 2021,” he said at a workshop at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka yesterday.
Urban consumption poverty eradication is also possible well before the UN-set deadline of 2030, as it came down to 14 percent this year from 21.3 percent in 2010, he added.
The sustainable development goals called for eradication of extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030; internationally, poverty incidence below 3 percent is considered zero poverty, he said.
“But in a highly populated country like Bangladesh, 3 percent of the total population is a huge number. So, we have to work in both urban and rural areas to bring down the poverty level to zero percent to attain the SDG target on poverty.” Sen, however, said multiple risks persist.
“The issue is not just poverty reduction via temporary poverty escape, but one of permanent poverty escape.”
Apart from consumption poverty eradication, other deprivations in areas such as quality of education, health, nutrition, housing and transport have to be taken into consideration, according to Sen.
“The issue is to transform a middle income country into a middle class country.”
Mihir Kanti Majumder, chairman of Palli Sanchay Bank, said the declining trend of extreme poverty is encouraging.
If the country can reap the benefit of the demographic dividends, develop skills of the youth population, and properly use its resources, Bangladesh would become a developed country, he added.
“So, we need a concerted effort on fronts such as education and health. Agricultural machination is a must as many people are leaving the agricultural sector and engaging in non-farm activities.”
At the workshop, Sen presented an impact of a project run by Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) with support from the Shiree project funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development and the Bangladesh government.
'Moving from extreme poverty through economic empowerment' started in 2009 and worked in several slums such as Karail, Kamrangirchar, Lalbag, Hazaribag, Mohammadpur and Mirpur. The project ended in 2016.
Under the project, a non-refundable fund of Tk 14,000 was transferred to the beneficiaries. They were given training on income generation and were given access to health care facilities, said Masudul Quader, chief executive of DSK.
“There are many people who are not deemed credit worthy or don't know how to utilise the credit properly, largely because of a lack of capacity. We have identified them. Now they are able to run businesses on their own,” he said.
Under the project, 30,000 households have come out of extreme poverty, said Prof Mahfuza Khanam, vice-president of DSK.
Sen first conducted pilot surveys in the slums in 2011. In December, he carried out a final survey to measure the impact of the project. This time, the number of households was 950, including 200 households under a control group.
The study showed annual income, savings and capital formation and assets have gone up for the beneficiaries compared to the controlled group. Access to sanitation and washing habits also improved.
Beneficiary households registered 24 percent higher income compared to controlled households. The weekly consumption propensity for protein and micronutrient-rich items such as eggs, meat, dairy products and fruits is significantly higher in case of programme members, said Sen.
“The members also have higher aspiration than the non-members for their children.”
Sen said: “It seems that DSK-Shiree should now try to lift their members from moderate poverty given their past success in attacking urban extreme poverty.”
“Yesterday's extreme poor are today's moderate poor, and they are already dreaming of becoming a part of the middle class. Can we support their aspiration?”
Mofizul Islam, director general of the Department of Cooperatives, said it is really tough to reduce urban extreme poverty compared to rural extreme poverty, as most poor people live illegally or do informal trades. “DSK-Shiree has done the difficult task.”
Setara Begum, a community leader in the city's Karail slum, said she has been living in the slum for 25 years after she lost her home in Barguna to river waters.
“I have been given training. I have been given Tk 14,000 as grants, which I used to start a teashop. I also started selling saris with their help,” she said.
“If the government can allocate land to the rich, why can't it do the same for the poor?”
“But we are always fearful that the slums might be demolished anytime.”
“If the slum is demolished, there will be no place for us to go. We don't want to become zero from hero.”