A milestone achievement in fixing homelessness
On any given night in Bangladesh, large numbers of people are either homeless – sleeping in temporary shelters, on the streets, in huts built on khas land, etc. – or facing the prospects of becoming one because of increased socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Many haven't had a fixed place to lay their heads in years. Their sufferings, especially that of children and the elderly, are well-documented. The government's Ashrayan housing project offers a solution to this problem, and on Thursday, it reached an important milestone as Panchagarh and Magura were declared the country's first two districts with no homeless and landless people.
This is indeed a moment to be proud of. Reportedly, the nine upazilas of Panchagarh and Magura were among a total of 52 declared free of the scourge of homelessness. In the process, a total of 19,780 landless families were rehabilitated. We share the joy of those who were handed over keys to houses that they can now call their own, a roof overhead that no one can take away. At the virtual handover ceremony, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rightly called this "a big achievement", before promising that "every person in the country will have a house and an address."
According to officials, a total of 67,800 houses will be distributed among homeless families as part of the third phase of Ashrayan-2, an undertaking of the PMO meant to mark the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Of these, 32,904 houses were handed over on April 26, 26,229 handed over on Thursday, and the construction of 8,667 is underway. In the first two phases of the project, 117,329 semi-pucca houses, along with a piece of two-decimal land for each family, were distributed on January 23, 2021 and June 20, 2021, respectively. We're happy to know that the government plans to continue the scheme, given how it is contributing to rural economy with improved life prospects for the formerly homeless.
Such initiatives are extremely important in a country where homelessness is often as much a result of unfair socioeconomic conditions as a failure of policy and governance, with no reliable data on the poor to guide policies, and no robust support mechanism for them to fall back on. The plight of street children is another example of that failure. Besides a permanent home, the poor need the guarantee of a range of supporting conditions and services such as proper schooling for children, the opportunity for earning incomes, and unrestricted access to social safety net programmes. These too should be met to improve their living standards.
We urge the government to extend its housing scheme everywhere to end homelessness for good, and build a robust support mechanism for the poor so they can turn their life around and contribute to our economy.