While providing micro-loans to the poor can help them raise income, it may not necessarily ensure their better health, education and hygiene that improve quality of life. That is particularly true when it comes to hard-to-reach areas like haor, hills or chars.
Exactly that was the idea why Brac had undertaken a development approach, in which it designed 10 types of services, including microfinance, health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and legal aid to the poor of haor areas. And, it found impressive impacts.
"The people under our programme were more resilient during flash floods in the haor early this year. They had financial capacity and livelihood safety," said Dr Muhammad Musa, executive director of Brac.
He said under the Integrated Development Programme (IDP), vaccination saved the cattle from common diseases after floods. Boat schools operated by IDP provided continued schooling for the children in the haor region.
"Overall, the coping mechanism of the IDP beneficiaries is quite strong," Musa told a workshop on IDP that began its operations in two upazilas -- Baniachong in Habiganj and Derai in Sunamganj -- in 2013.
In 2015, IDP was introduced in two other upazilas -- Itna in Kishoreganj and Khaliajuri in Netrakona. In total, over 9 lakh poor people benefit from IDP.
"Income of the poor people rose by nine percent. Self-employment for female and male, aged 16-65 years, increased by six and 10 percent respectively," said Jinnat Ara, a research fellow of Brac while presenting a study on the impact of IDP, at Brac Centre Inn.
The rate of using sanitary latrines and seeking healthcare from doctors increased by 77 and 50 percent respectively during this time, she said.
IDP Director Anna Minj said usually NGOs implemented projects in a region on either health or education or agriculture, but not in an integrated way.
"We now say the government or other NGOs too can replicate this model in hard-to-reach areas," she said, adding that there were some 60 hard-to-reach upazilas.
IDP will continue till 2020.
In another presentation, Brac's senior research fellow Dr Nepal Chandra Dey said usually 52 percent of people in haor regions of Moulavibazar, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Habiganj, Netrakona and Kishoreganj were engaged in agriculture, but the ratio came down to 13 due to flash floods this year.
Some 33 percent of households in the region had two meals a day instead of three, while 53 percent had lower food intake due to a lack of food availability, he said.
Dr Dey suggested dredging the rivers flowing through the haor region, building and maintaining embankments regularly, and introducing short variety crops that can be harvested before flash floods.
Addressing the programme, Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud said the biggest problem for sustainable development in Bangladesh now was climate change.
"Whatever we do, unless we prepare ourselves to tackle climate change, it is not going to work," he said, referring to Sylhet region's flash flooding this year that damaged crops and livestock worth Tk 4.5 billion.
He said the government was working to redesign the embankments of the haor region to protect paddy from flash floods and ensure that fish farming was not hampered.