Let's Be Bold, Bangladesh!

Let's Be Bold, Bangladesh!

Digital Bangladesh Meets the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor

BANGLADESH has shown remarkable success in poverty reduction and achievements against various social indicators.  Still some 25 million people, or 6 million families, live in extreme poverty (HIES 2010).  The Manifesto for the Extreme Poor, a civil society document launched last year, called for the complete eradication of extreme poverty from Bangladesh by the end of 2021.  200 organisations across the realms of NGOs, private sector companies and donors, have endorsed the Manifesto and expressed their solidarity with the cause: the economic empowerment of the extreme poor.  
In the National Budget announcement last week, the Finance Minister committed to eradicate extreme poverty from Bangladesh by 2018!  He allocated BDT 1500 crore to extreme poverty reduction programmes. The Manifesto for the Extreme Poor, developed through an inclusive and consultative process, has suggested a strategy drafted by experts within its pages.  It suggests three actions.  The first action is to give extremely poor families a transfer of an income-generating asset or skills training to enable them to earn a living.  To achieve the goal of eradication by the end of 2021, one million families need to be given this transfer every year for the next six years.  
Reaching the poorest. This is doable but radical steps need to be taken.  The poorest are 'invisible and silent', living in hard to reach areas and evidence shows that much of the safety nets allotted to the poorest do not reach them.  Shiree, a livelihood programme that is lifting 1 million people out of extreme poverty, works with a mobile-based monitoring system called the CMS (Change Monitoring System) whose baseline survey (2009) showed that out of1 million extremely hard core poor beneficiaries, only 20% received any support.
I am curious to know more about the Finance Minister's plan.  Evidence does not suggest that extreme poverty will be eradicated by 2018 unless some radical steps are taken. How will our Finance Minister ensure that the BDT 1500 crores allocated to the extreme poor will actually reach the poorest?  The plan should be made public and placed under the scrutiny of suitable experts.  
Databases. We need a system in place to identify the 25 million people in Bangladesh who are extremely poor people.  We need to make sure they receive the transfers they are eligible for and we need to ensure that the transfers are creating the outcomes we want.
Currently the World Bank is working with the government to create a database for people living below the higher poverty threshold.  DFID is planning to work with the Ministry of Finance to develop a database of people who are in the safety nets.  WFP is working at the upazilla level to identify regions with high levels of poverty that need to be specifically targeted.  
Change Monitoring System.  CMS allows Shire to track all its beneficiaries (census, not sample basis) to identify who is successfully climbing out of poverty and who need some more assistance.  This makes it possible to target easily and adjust support as necessary.  
Giving the poorest assets or skills.  A handful of programmes working with the extreme poor in Bangladesh (including Shiree, BRAC-CFPR, CLP, REOPA, FSUP, Nobo Jibon) have had great success. Large government projects such as Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar should be brought into the extreme poverty targeting effort.  Union Chairmen should have a database of the extreme poorin their union, and they should be rewarded monetarily for every 10% of extreme poverty reduced in their area. Shiree estimated the cost of lifting 1 million families out of extreme poverty a year, for the next six years, at $3 billion USD.  This is not an exorbitant amount for such a goal.  
Access to services. The second action necessary as outlined by the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor is to ensure access to public services and social protection transfers.  The poorest are more susceptible to illnesses as they are chronically malnourished and often working in hazardous conditions.  Illnesses wipe out their minimum ability to earn money from physical labour and loans taken to pay for a single treatment can throw a poor family into debt for the rest of their lives. An audit of the role of health and education services in targeting the poorest is needed.
Policies. The third action outlined in the Manifesto relates to pro-poor policies.  This includes strategies to encourage fair wages and safe working conditions, mobilise CSR funds, provide wide-scale vocational training and enhance routes for the extreme poor to graduate into formal employment opportunities. With over 8 million extremely poor youths in Bangladesh, policies should encourage the private sector to tap into the talent of an expanding labour force.  Gender dimensions are critical and need to be handled with special attention if we are truly to eradicate extreme poverty and maintain a balanced society.

The writer  is Head of Advocacy at Shiree.


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