Healthcare in Bangladesh
Healthcare in Bangladesh is not as sophisticated as in more developed countries; however, the country is working to improve and provide further funding to its healthcare system. So far Bangladesh has made great strides in increasing healthcare access for its people, but there is still a long way to go. Here are seven important facts about healthcare in Bangladesh.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Bangladesh

  1. Bangladesh has a pluralistic healthcare system. This healthcare system is highly decentralized. As a result, it is regulated and controlled by for-profit companies, NGOs, the national government and international welfare organizations. This shared power has caused many problems, including unequal treatment programs between social classes. Even though the laws and overall system are spearheaded and steered by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, other organizations have considerable influence on the decision-making.
  2. There is a shortage of physicians, specialists and clinical equipment. In Bangladesh, the number of physicians per 10,000 people is only about 3.06, which is significantly low. The number of nurses per 10,000 people is even lower, standing at 1.07. Additionally, only 35% of health and clinical facilities in the country have more than 75% of sanctioned staff working and there is a 36% vacancy in sanctioned healthcare workers. There is also a 50% vacancy in alternative medicine providers. These numbers are one of the reasons that Bangladesh’s quality of healthcare is low compared to many other Asian countries.
  3. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Bangladesh. Most deaths are caused by cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and malnutrition. There are almost no alcohol-related deaths due to alcohol consumption and sale being illegal in the country. A 2016 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that tobacco usage has decreased for both men and women, with only 23% of the population using tobacco products. Obesity has remained low, rising slightly, but still only affected 2% of adolescents and 3% of the adult population. However, poor nutrition is still prevalent, leading to diabetes and high blood pressure.
  4. Most physicians and healthcare workers are concentrated in urban areas. Rural areas often do not have proper healthcare facilities. To remedy this, the national government has set up many government-funded hospitals in rural areas that provide cheaper treatment for rural citizens. However, these hospitals are often poorly funded, understaffed and overly crowded due to a limited number of healthcare options in rural areas.
  5. Enrollment in medical colleges and healthcare training facilities has increased. This will benefit the country by increasing the number of healthcare workers in proportion to the population. However, this is only a recent trend and these future healthcare workers must complete their education and training before being able to fully practice their professions. The HPNSDP (Health, Population and Nutrition Sector Development Program) have already begun drafting and implementing a plan to further increase the number of nurses and midwives through training and education facilities.
  6. Socioeconomic inequality affects healthcare in Bangladesh. One area this can be seen in is infant mortality. The infant mortality rate for the lowest income quintile is 35 deaths per 1000 births, while infant mortality for the highest income quintile is only 14 deaths per 1000 births. One of the main reasons for this inequality is that most poor Bangladeshis live in rural areas that do not have adequate hospital facilities. However, even in urban areas, socioeconomic inequality has a large impact. A person with more money is generally able to receive better healthcare than someone who is poorer and cannot afford certain treatments or services. This is due to the fact that the healthcare system is decentralized and partially run by for-profit healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.
  7. Limited government funding has led to high out-of-pocket payments. One of the other reasons poorer citizens in Bangladesh cannot afford certain treatments or services is high out-of-pocket costs. On average, Bangladeshi citizens must pay 63.3% of the total cost, while the government pays the rest. This system creates a significant financial burden for impoverished families, sometimes forcing them to either forego treatment or go into debt. To reduce this burden, the government must increase healthcare funding.

These seven facts about healthcare in Bangladesh illustrate some of the barriers that Bangladesh must overcome to provide high-quality healthcare across the nation. The Bangladeshi Government’s constitution upholds that all citizens will be provided with equal treatment, including in healthcare. To achieve this, the government needs to address the current inequality and continue to make healthcare a focus of its efforts.

Sadat Tashin
Photo: Flickr

Rift Valley FeverIn 1999, NASA scientists theorized that at some point soon, they would have the ability to track outbreaks (via satellite) of Rift Valley fever (RVF). This disease is deadly to livestock and occasionally, humans, in East Africa. They already knew the method needed but did not yet have enough data. NASA scientists had already surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events and knew that areas with more vegetation would breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, satellites would need to track differences in the color and density of vegetation, from year to year.

Prediction of Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists predicted and tracked an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in East Africa. Unfortunately, even with intervention efforts, the 2006 outbreak led to the deaths of more than 500 people and cost the regional economy more than $60 million. This was due to export restrictions as well as livestock deaths. However, the aim of researchers was not to entirely stop that outbreak. The results of that mission gave researchers confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak and warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike. Thanks to the combined efforts of NASA and the Kenyan government, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley fever in 2016. This, in turn, saved the country millions of dollars and protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers, throughout the country.

Focus on Cholera

With the success of Rift Valley fever prediction in 2006, NASA researchers became confident they may predict all disease outbreaks. Moreover, they believed they could halt them, using satellite technology. Researchers are especially focused on neglected diseases like cholera which are connected to environmental conditions and hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. This enables researchers to use more than just the visual data, used in the initial Rift Valley fever predictions. Consequently, this significantly improves their models.

Cholera is perhaps the most promising disease, analyzed by new scientific models due to its scale. Nearly 3 million people contract and almost 100,000, die each year. Moreover, it spread directly links to weather events. There are two distinct forms of cholera, endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. Also, communities living along coasts are typically ready for the disease. Epidemic cholera comes about during extreme weather events like floods and inland communities are often unprepared for the disease. Both forms of the disease proved to be perfect candidates for modeling by disease researchers. In 2013, a NASA team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.

The Yemen Model

The real test of the NASA team’s predictive models would come in 2017. The use of the model in Yemen proved to work near perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur, nearly a full month in advance. The success of the model in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable. This is because it could mean less of a need for more expensive and dangerous methods of disease research. Instead, early warning systems are an implementable option. Even if they fail, medical professionals can send vaccines and medications to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid lends itself more efficiently. Information is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year, along with thousands of lives.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Increased Information TransparencyThe ready-made garment (RMG) industry is a significant source of growth for Bangladesh’s rapidly developing economy. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of garments, and the garment industry in Bangladesh employs 4.4 million workers in more than 4600 factories. However, the size and complexity of the industry leads to poor working conditions and exploitative labor practices. These practices often do not garner attention until a tragic disaster happens, like the Rana Plaza collapse. As such, there is an urgent need for increased information transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh to improve labor rights and workplace safety for these millions of workers. The digital initiative Mapped in Bangladesh is stepping up to the challenge.

Rana Plaza: Leaving a Legacy of Responsibility

The Rana Plaza building, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, housed five garment factories that supplied American brands. Its 2013 collapse is one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, killing at least 1,1232 people and injuring 2,500 more. In the wake of the tragedy, activists and consumers worldwide demanded the codification of workplace safety standards. However, the lack of transparency surrounding which brands used the building to produce their garments concealed the companies involved. In fact, people had to dig through rubble for loose clothing labels to confirm which companies worked at Rana Plaza.

As such, the Rana Plaza collapse was an eye-opening example of how a lack of transparency costs lives. It indicated that the first step toward reforming the garment industry in Bangladesh requires greater visibility of workers and their working conditions. Although companies saw a lack of transparency in their supply chain as a competitive advantage, disclosing of supplier factory information actually drives profits. Indeed, 85% of executives from the apparel and footwear industries say that “transparency is either extremely or very important to the industries’ success.”

Consumers’ focus on ethical manufacturing has also driven this call for reform. A survey from Accenture found that when consumers’ values do not align with a company’s position on social, ethical, and environmental issues, 42% of consumers will step away from the brand. Further, 21% will never buy from that company again. In this way, transparency serves as a tool for accountability. It provides consumers with the information they need to make more informed shopping choices and demand more ethical practices. That said, the push for information transparency requires more than shifting consumer preferences.

Mapped in Bangladesh

A promising milestone for information transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh comes from Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB). Implemented by the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development at Brac University, this initiative has collected and published a comprehensive database of RMG export-oriented factories. It formats this information as an interactive, digital map reminiscent of Google Maps. The initiative came about as a pilot project in response to the Rana Plaza Collapse. As a stakeholder of the RMG industry explained, “If we had such a map during the Rana Plaza tragedy, we could have reacted more quickly.”

Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, the project manager for MiB, outlined their methodology to The Borgen Project. Despite not knowing the exact number of factories, the team determined the general industrial areas where they exist. Because single factories interact with the larger RMG system, they rarely exist in remote villages.

From there, they decided the most effective method would be a door-to-door census on the streets of the industry’s four major districts. Hussain described the process as using “the snowball effect to identify additional factories,” no matter how dispersed individual factories are within a cluster. As of August 2020, the MiB site displays complete data sets from the Dhaka, Gazipur, and Narayanganj districts. The researchers expect to add the last major district’s data in 2021.

Mapping Transparency for Consumers

The project aims to fill the absence of an authenticated and continuously updated method of tracing RMG producers. Additionally, it serves as an alternative to sources with unverified secondary information. Hussain added that MiB can authenticate some data points directly. These include factory name, address, certifications, products made, export countries and worker’s participation committees. However, it is impossible to completely validate information like the number of workers and their demographic breakdown.

MiB’s formal data validation process also involves cross-checking for consistency with both brands and other outside sources. Specifically, it verifies memberships with certain associations and again with the factory at a later date. When MiB finds contradictory information during the verification process, it flags the data. This lets the consumer make the final call for their purchases.

Some factories lie about which brands’ products they manufacture for marketing purposes, but brands themselves also challenge the data. Hussain shared, “Initially, we thought this transparency would be attacked by the local associations, but it was unexpected for us that brands would come in and falsify their reporting,” even when the factories show proof that they do manufacture said brands. These inconsistencies highlight exactly why transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh is so important.

The Impact of COVID-19 Moving Forward

COVID-19 has hit Bangladesh’s RMG industry especially hard. At the end of April 2020, 1,149 factories reported that brands canceled orders for more than $3.16 billion worth of garments. In the wake of these economic impacts, activists are concerned that progress on worker protections and safety regulations after the Rana Plaza collapse will disappear.

In May and July of 2020, MiB surveyed export-oriented RMG factories to create a COVID-19 specific map. It found that a large part of the garment industry in Bangladesh is back in action. “It seems like things are getting normal, but one of the questions we asked is about how optimistic they are about the immediate future, and we found out that people were extremely pessimistic,” said Hussain. There is a possibility that factories are using their current capacity for orders that were initially canceled and recently reinstated.

Perhaps the pessimism also results from in the market uncertainty facing workers during the upcoming winter season. With the current quarantines in many Western markets, the RMG industry is not working on a natural order pipeline. Though factories traditionally produce knits and coats in the winter season, demand is sure to change with people staying home. With this added unpredictability for workers who already live under extreme financial uncertainty, the garment industry in Bangladesh requires increased information transparency now more than ever.

Christine Mui
Photo: Wikimedia

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Emerging Markets in BangladeshBangladesh is a South Asian country bordered by India, Burma and Myanmar. The country boasts stunning natural views, including the world’s largest natural sea beach. Over 162 million people call Bangladesh home and share 56,980 square feet of land, making it the eighth-most populous country in the world and one of the most densely populated. Although about 25% of Bangladeshis still live below the poverty line, the country has made remarkable progress in increasing the standard of living for its people. From 1991 to 2017, Bangladesh achieved a decrease in poverty of a little under 30%. This was achieved through marked political stability and sustained economic growth in emerging markets in Bangladesh through the garment/textile, service and ICT sectors.

A Booming Textile Industry

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothing manufacturer behind China. The garment sector employs about 15% of the total population. It produces roughly 30% of the GDP for the entire country. Since the 60’s, the country has been reaping the economic rewards of this thriving industry. This is seen clearly as Bangladesh currently holds the title for the fastest growing economy in the Asia Pacific region, averaging a 7% growth rate per year. Significant developments in the garment sector, service sector and ICT have led to increased economic prosperity for residents. They have also led to new, emerging markets in Bangladesh and relationships with other countries, including the United States.

New Markets for the U.S.

Additionally, U.S. exports to Bangladesh significantly increased between 2010 and 2011, growing by over half a billion dollars, or 98%. These exports include the raw materials needed to feed the garment sector’s growing appetite. They also include cotton, wheat, petroleum and electrical and mechanical equipment. More Bangladeshis reap the benefits of a secure income and a rapidly improving economy. Consequently, emerging markets in Bangladesh have opened for other countries as well. The Huesges Group is a powerful German business company. It sees this potential and is planning to invest 50 to 70 million euros in Bangladesh, mostly in the tourism, hospitality and ICT sectors.

Some major US companies already doing business in Bangladesh include Boeing, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Wells Fargo and 3M. Global investment is encouraged and welcomed by the government of Bangladesh. Foreign investments bring billions of dollars and lots of jobs into the economy. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, as new markets of consumers help companies all over the world become more successful.

Emerging Opportunities in ICT

Furthermore, Bangladesh is continuing to grow and prosper. It has a significant focus on developing new markets in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Although it is a relatively new sector, it holds a lot of promise for future economic development. In fact, the current government of Bangladesh has named ICT as an important sector for the continued economic growth of the country. It even plans to invest financially and through programming to support its growth. This makes sense because people in South Asia are using the internet more and more.

In addition, research shows that over the past 18 years, the number of internet users in Bangladesh soared from 0.1 million users to 80 million users. This shows that there are increasingly voracious, emerging markets in Bangladesh for digital products and ICT. The Prime Minister’s office is championing the concept of “Digital Bangladesh.” It aims to have 8.5 million students learning from multimedia content developed by 100,000 teachers. It also aims to provide $28.15 million in earnings for Digital Center Entrepreneurs and perks like Software park, which facilitates high-speed internet connection trade facilities. These along with programs like Digital World, ICT Expo, National Hackathon and Connecting Startups Bangladesh help connect and educate people to the internet. They have provided countless jobs for Bangladeshi youth as well as many opportunity and promise for the future of Bangladesh.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

sanitation during covid-19COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is often spread through airborne droplets released by breathing or talking and by touching infected surfaces. Good hygiene is therefore an initial line of defense in preventing viral infection. However, hand washing requires access to clean water and effective sanitation. While COVID-19 has changed the way people think about hygiene, the lack of access many people in developing countries have to sanitation during COVID-19 remains the same.

Water Crises and Sanitation During COVID-19

More than one half of people around the world do not have access to high-quality sanitation facilities. Furthermore, COVID-19 has exacerbated this already tenuous water and sanitation situation in many parts of the world. Areas with hotspots, like Cairo and Mumbai, are often crowded with restricted public services.

To manage the immediate effects of COVID-19, governments in developing countries have turned to various short-term solutions. For example, Rwanda has installed mobile hand washing stations, while South Africa has begun to use water trucks. The Chilean government has also suspended water and sanitation charges for citizens. In a pandemic, automated water management systems are especially helpful in reducing loss, expanding access and preserving social distancing. In addition to these governmental reforms, many companies have used technology to shore up water and sanitation during COVID-19 in developing countries. Here are five organizations looking to improve sanitation during COVID-19.

Five Companies Improving Water and Sanitation During COVID-19

  1. Wonderkid: This start-up delivers smart solutions to the city of Nairobi, Kenya. The organization supplies water management software to utility companies to help address customer problems, billing, payments and running water meters. Wonderkid’s smart water meters track non-revenue water that does not reach the customer or leaks out of faulty pipes. Thus, Wonderkid allows water utilities to function more effectively and service more people. As of 2018, Wonderkid had expanded to help 36 utility companies in Mozambique, Nigeria, Malawi and Liberia.
  2. CityTaps: This organization provides poor families in Niger access to water at a much cheaper price than water vendors. Its smart water meters give water utilities more financial stability. Importantly, they can then expand their services to more poor families. This allows companies to meet the current needs for effective hygiene to fight COVID-19.
  3. Drinkwell: Impoverished people in Dhaka, Bangladesh often rely on illicit or expensive water sources. The social enterprise Drinkwell, a brainchild of American English Fulbright fellow Minjah Chowdury, provides water through ATMs. Drinkwell works with mobile service provider Robi Axiata and Dhaka WASA, a local water utility, to do so. It is also collaborating with Happy Tap, a mobile hygiene provider, to provide hand-washing services to people in Bangladesh.
  4. Sangery: Container-Based Sanitation (CBS) like Sanergy are an up and coming sanitation alternative for people in low-income areas. These systems are simpler and cheaper than sewer systems, but they are also cleaner than latrines and open defecation. CBS systems use a container to capture waste, which then turns into fertilizer. Sanergy uses this technology to resolve the sanitation crisis in Nairobi, Kenya. Run by three M.I.T. students, the company provides Fresh Life Toilets that fit into cramped urban dwellings and empty safely. The ability to have a private toilet is essential in practicing social distancing during the pandemic. During COVID-19, Sanergy has also provided 18 hand-washing stations that allow residents to practice good hygiene.
  5. Mosan: Similar to Sanergy, Mosan is a sanitation project based in Guatemala that provides container-based system toilets to people’s homes. The toilets have a durable, urine-diverting design, which keeps urine and feces in separate containers. They cover feces with dry materials like ash instead of water and eventually recycle them into usable fertilizer material. Such innovations make it more likely that people will stay at home during the pandemic. Additionally, Mosan is providing contactless pickup of containers to encourage people to stay home and social distance.

The Future of Sanitation in Developing Countries

COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in global abilities to provide safe, clean water and sanitation in developing countries. Now, many people lack the water they need to combat the coronavirus. While it is not clear if COVID-19 can spread through human waste, proper sanitation also stops the spread of infectious disease in general.

By shoring up water services and sanitation during COVID-19 in developing countries, governments and other organizations in have provided stop-gap solutions to water and sanitation issues. Technologies like digital water meters, water ATMs, container-based toilets are now saving lives in a new way. Because they help people stay home and keep clean, these solutions allow developing countries to better fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

ShopUp Helps with Poverty Eradication in Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s economy has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. This raises its GDP per capita by 344% in total since the year 2000. In the last five years alone, this same figure surged 48%. Despite this progress, a significant portion of the country still lives below the poverty line — roughly 20% of a population of 164 million. Recent innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh are working to boost economic prospects and facilitate financial security for all of its citizens.

One of these innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh is the digital platform ShopUp. ShopUp is co-founded by Afeef Zaman, Siffat Sarwar and Ataur Chowdhury. It began with the goal to empower owners of Facebook businesses with the technical means to grow. More than 50% of Bangladeshis are self-employed. Many of them are operating e-commerce and social commerce shops through Facebook as their source of income. Also, it quickly became evident that clients’ lack of access to capital was hindering their businesses’ growth. After partnering with BRAC in 2018, a Bangladesh-based international development organization, ShopUp now aims to help small business owners acquire credit and other financials when they cannot afford the high cost of formal services.

How ShopUp Benefits Small Business Owners

Transaction records through sites like Facebook can be difficult to track and formalize for loan purposes. ShopUp automatically collects the relevant data from sales on Facebook Messenger. As a result, the merchant can more easily apply to loans from microfinance institutions. Furthermore, the process is quick. When a seller is ready to apply for a loan through ShopUp, the algorithm analyzes 25 different data points from the business’s profile. Additionally, it estimates an appropriate loan ceiling. It only takes 24 hours after approval for the financier to distribute the funds that the borrower requested.

Moreover, it increases access to capital. The service benefits microfinance enterprises by conducting a thorough and efficient online appraisal of the small business applying for the loan. Also, this allows for a significantly lower appraisal fee. This means a higher number of loans can be approved. Growth in the microfinance sector advances the market economy and creates more employment opportunities. In addition to financial assistance, ShopUp provides promotional assistance. Merchants can purchase advertisements for their shops via the service without needing to connect a bank account or credit card. Curated ad placement grants increased visibility. This results in a larger potential customer pool for emerging businesses.

Gender discrimination in Bangladesh means that women tend to face more barriers than men when it comes to employment. With ShopUp’s low cost and ease of access, it is an effective tool for female entrepreneurs to start their small businesses. Women’s participation in the labor force in Bangladesh rose to 36.2% in 2019, in part, due to the expanding market of e-commerce. Furthermore, that same year, 80% of ShopUp’s users were female.

Continued Growth of ShopUp

Investors recognize the potential for ShopUp to increase innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh. The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, led a seed round in 2018 encouraging other major companies to assist in funding ShopUp’s endeavors. Google and Amazon were among the contributors for this round which resulted in a $1.62 million investment in the digital service. Data collected in January 2019 show that the platform served 380 individuals after launching the partner project with BRAC. This means it lends out a total of more than 3.1 million (BDT).

ShopUp is just one example of the innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh that are putting the country on track to continue its recent economic growth. Widespread Internet usage facilitates a digital market economy that has already provided new opportunities for financial gain. Having accessible services within the market for lower-income individuals is a crucial step in the process.

Jennifer Paul
Photo: Flickr

Seasonal Hunger in Bangladesh
Seasonal hunger is a period of food scarcity characterized by starvation. It occurs between harvest seasons when food prices are high, jobs are in short supply and the previous year’s food stocks have gone down. Seasonal hunger impacts 300 million of the world’s rural poor. A common misconception about malnutrition is that conflict and natural disasters are its most significant driving forces. However, chronic seasonal hunger is the most common cause of undernourishment and malnutrition. Some even call seasonal hunger the “father of famine.”

Seasonal Hunger in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, a small Southasian country bordering India and Myanmar, seasonal hunger afflicts a large portion of the rural population, especially those living in the northwest region of Rangpur. During the annual seasonal famine, incomes decrease by 50-60% and spending on food drops by 10-25%. About 15.4 million people live in Rangpur. Approximately 13.6 million of these people live in areas where during the yearly pre-harvest season, there is a decline in labor demand and wages causing households that do not own land to regularly skip meals. This is especially problematic for children with poor nutrition. Even if only for a short time, it can restrict physical and mental development in the long run.

Storm Surges

Due to its geographically low elevation and the high tendency for watercourses, Bangladesh is exceptionally susceptible to natural disasters. Around 30 to 50% of the country experienced severe climate shocks each year. Also, cyclones in the country account for 70% of all storm surges in the world. Rural Bangladesh faces the worst of these storm surges, and it devastates the entire harvests. Thus, it contributes to food insecurity in the nation.

Seasonal Migration

To mitigate the effects of seasonal hunger, the Bangladesh government has implemented food or cash-for-work programs. In the meantime, NGOs have attempted to amplify employment opportunities through credit, job training and marketing initiatives. However, rather than enforcing consumption-smoothing initiatives, there is a need for the more long term and sustainable solutions to meet the needs of the Bangladeshi people better.

Seasonal hunger comes and hits the majority-rural areas of Bangladesh. Simultaneously, low-skill labor opportunities become available in other regions of the country. Seasonal migration for these jobs, which generally entails leaving farms to move to more lucrative cities, is a common practice. It is a practice that the rural poor in Bangladesh use to provide for their families so they can eat regularly.

However, some people choose to stay behind and risk starvation, indicating that there are hurdles to overcome for migration. Many of these people have a desire to remain with the family, financial constraints or a lack of information about job opportunities. Moreover, a research study investigated whether providing low-cost incentives, namely cash, credit and information for seasonal migration, effectively helps people overcome these hurdles. The study found that households with an incentive to migrate were more likely to do so during the hungry season over families that were not. Also, migrant families did have considerably better food security.

Moving Forward

While seasonal migration is a solution many families use to avoid seasonal hunger, this does not solve any of the root causes of hunger in Bangladesh. In addition to continuing to provide financial incentives to migrating, the government must also address poverty and hunger. Moving forward, there must be an increase in employment opportunities in rural areas, allowing families to support themselves without migrating.

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

SDG Goal 4 in BangladeshThe United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of objectives designed for all countries to fulfill to provide everyone with a more sustainable future. In 2015, members of the UN General Assembly enacted these 17 SDGs to reduce poverty, eradicate widespread hunger, and address other global challenges. Following the plan’s yearly list in a timely fashion, the SDGs aim to bring about a more prosperous life in developing countries by 2030. Bangladesh has found some success in meeting these goals; recently, individuals and government organizations are working to accomplish SDG Goal 4. This goal aims to ensure equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Since 2015, Bangladesh is one of the many countries that have made remarkable improvements in reducing poverty, which meets SDG Goal 1. For instance, in 2018, only three years after implementing the SGDs, the proportion of the population living below the international poverty line decreased by 8.3% relative to 2010. Similarly, the percentage of the population living below the domestic poverty line decreased by 9.9% from 2010 to 2018.

This decrease in poverty is a marked improvement. However, Bangladesh still faces many challenges in establishing an adequate educational system. To tackle such an expansive issue, the government has set multiple targets in its aim to achieve SDG Goal 4 in Bangladesh.

Here are five accomplishments in the Bangladeshi effort to provide a more inclusive education system:

Established Various Education Expansion Programs

The Bangladeshi government has launched various projects with help from organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). These projects were created to address specific issues and build upon successes of the Bangladeshi education system to accomplish SDG Goal 4. For instance, Bangladesh boasts a 99% child enrollment rate and a steadily growing 73% literacy rate. However, participation in secondary and higher education is lacking in Bangladesh; the International Labor Organization recently noted that 27% of youths aged 15 to 27 were not engaged in any form of education, employment or training.

Projects such as the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) and Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement Project (SEQAEP) aim to increase the participation of Bangladeshi youths in the educational system. Additional projects include the Secondary Education Sector Investment Program (SESIP) and Generation Breakthrough and Teaching Quality Improvement (TQI). These projects will attempt to overcome the barriers to education and reduce inefficiencies in the system. This includes improving school infrastructure, increasing transportation options and eliminating redundant standardized testing.

Expanded Education in Rural Areas

Education in rural Bangladesh is especially troubling. Many regions lack access to primary schooling, leaving little opportunity for people to grow professionally. To increase overall participation, the Bangladeshi government expanded access to preprimary and primary schooling, specifically in rural areas. Over the past few decades, the government has built thousands of schools and improved infrastructure in rural areas. Rural education still remains an area of concern in Bangladesh. The various projects mentioned above aim to ensure consistent growth in rural education so as to ensure the attainment of SDG goal 4 in Bangladesh.

Increased Enrollment Rates

Due to primary education’s expanded opportunities, enrollment rates have risen dramatically in recent years. According to the United Nations Development Programme, the overall school enrolment rate stood over 90% by 2015. As a result, literacy rates are constantly improving and are now at 73%. The demographics of students also diversified as more females have been given a chance to partake in formal schooling.

Textbook Celebration Day

A holiday called the Textbook Celebration Day occurs annually on January 1 to promote better education in Bangladesh. As implied by the name, the festival provides students all across the country with free textbooks. Students from preprimary to secondary level are all eligible to receive books written in Bengali and various ethnic languages, including Chakma, Marma, Sadri, Tripura and Garo. In 2019, there were over 35,21,97,882 textbooks distributed among 4,26,19,865 primary and secondary level students.

Bangladesh Bhavan

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Education established Bangladesh Bhavan, a center for people who want to engage in cultural education. The two-story building includes various amenities such as a 450 capacity auditorium, museum and library. It also has a research center, two seminar halls and a cafeteria. Moreover, the center is located in India, which according to both countries’ prime ministers expresses the two countries’ harmonious ties.

Although Bangladesh was once severely lacking adequate education systems, the implementation of SDG 4 has drastically improved their situation. Bangladesh has not only built more schools but also increased material distribution and cultural education. Additionally, the government has worked to address the gender imbalance among students. With continuous efforts from the Bangladeshi government and outside organizations, education in Bangladesh will inevitably flourish.

– Heather Law
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Bangladesh
Since achieving independence in 1971, Bangladesh has lifted 15 million citizens out of poverty and made great strides in tackling food insecurity. However, while its government has been tirelessly working to develop economically, it has also been fighting another battle for women’s rights in Bangladesh.

Despite a patriarchal social framework, Bengali women have held the right to vote since 1947, and the country elected its first female Prime Minister in 1991. Women fought for their country in Bangladesh’s Liberation War, and the constitution that the country subsequently adopted promised equal opportunities for women in all areas. The following six facts about women’s rights in Bangladesh explain how the country has tried to uphold that promise, and what challenges remain.

6 Facts About Women’s Rights in Bangladesh

  1. The government has enacted numerous policies over the past decade focused on women’s rights in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has increased allowances for widows, eased the burden on lactating mothers in urban areas and provided job training in fields such as agriculture and electronics. The National Women Development Policy of 2011 aimed to establish equal rights for men and women but also included specific goals such as assistance for female entrepreneurs. To oversee the implementation of the development policy, the government formed a 50-member National Women and Child Development Council chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina has also vocally supported women’s empowerment in global forums such as the UN.
  2. Men still dominate the country’s political system. With Hasina leading the country since 2009 and the main opposition party also being led by a woman, Bangladesh might appear to be a model for women’s empowerment in politics. However, out of 350 seats in the Bangladeshi parliament, only 22 currently belong to directly elected female legislators while 50 are reserved for women who are not directly elected. Female politicians and activists have described a culture of exclusion within the two main political parties, reinforced by male politicians who view their female colleagues as inferior. Still, the proportion of women in parliament has continued to rise over the past decade and women hold seats in 12,000 local political offices.
  3. Maternal mortality has dropped 60% since 2000. This drop has been the result of effective investments in prenatal care. The Government and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, has provided critical support by coordinating midwife training programs. Trained midwives alleviate a major risk factor for maternal mortality, which is a lack of healthcare access for pregnant women. More than half of Bengali women opt to give birth at home, but the proportion of births in which trained health personnel are present has been growing and now makes up more than half.
  4. Violence against women and child marriage remain major problems. Two out of three married women in Bangladesh have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. Religious law dictates customs such as marriage and cements discrimination against women. Almost 60% of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and their husbands’ families may abandon them if they are unable to bear children. Grassroots and international NGOs have attempted to change this status quo; for example, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh is a partnership of 25 organizations that lobbies the government and promotes advocacy. The government has answered by passing the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act in 2010 and the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017, but the results of these efforts have yet to materialize.
  5. Civil society organizations have played a key role in improving women’s rights in Bangladesh. An example of a nonprofit that is supporting Bengali women is the South Murapa Underprivileged Women’s Cooperative Society. This organization provides medical care to women in Cox’s Bazar district. The group’s chairperson, Kulsuma Begum, escaped an abusive husband at the age of 16 and immediately set out to help pregnant women in disaster zones. Apart from domestic organizations like Begum’s, international charities such as Save the Children have made large gains in infant health and early childhood education.
  6. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities. An interagency evaluation by UN Women identified several factors that could erode women’s rights in Bangladesh due to the pandemic, including lack of healthcare access, unequal care work burden and a lack of decision-making power in the pandemic response. Experts also documented a rise in gender-based violence during the initial shutdown, fueling a spike in calls to national trauma hotlines. Luckily, local organizations on the ground have organized cash-for-work activities for women, such as mask making.

The Road Ahead

In the months to come, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present challenges for Bangladesh, especially the country’s women. However, Bengali women have long borne the brunt of their country’s struggles while still relentlessly pushing for change. Hopefully, their resilience will ultimately shine through.

 – Jack Silvers
Photo: Flickr