Renewable Energy in BangladeshAccess to electricity addresses symptoms of world poverty. The World Bank describes access to electricity as at the “heart of development” and the United Nations recognizes access to reliable and clean electricity as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). For Bangladesh, achieving full energy accessibility by 2022 is a major goal. However, the specific source of energy production influences the effectiveness of energy development. As a result, the implementation of renewable energy in Bangladesh could help the country reach its goal.

Bangladesh significantly increased access to electricity by utilizing non-renewable sources of energy. However, working toward Bangladesh’s energy accessibility goal through non-renewable sources alleviates certain symptoms of poverty and exacerbates others. These circumstances leave room for the growth of renewable energy in Bangladesh. Renewable energy in Bangladesh can address poverty along with the unintended consequences of non-renewable sources of energy.

The Paradox of Energy in Bangladesh

Citizens are receiving the power they need while their neighborhoods suffer from harmful pollution. Government policy allowed for substantial increases in Bangladesh’s access to reliable energy. Between 2000 and 2019, access to electricity in Bangladesh rose from 32% of its population to 92.2%. Regardless, Bangladesh’s government invested in non-renewable power stations to power its most populous settings. This means those in urban settings are gaining energy access while sacrificing their health.

Natural gas has been leading Bangladesh’s surge in energy production. Other non-renewable sources of energy in Bangladesh such as coal and diesel are responsible for producing the majority of Bangladesh’s pollutive energy. Both release harmful pollutants that can cause various health problems. These consequences disproportionately affect those living in poverty. Impoverished citizens in Bangladesh who face pollution are more subject to illness and are less likely to receive treatment for it.

Bangladesh has recently rejected coal plant plans. The move is evidence that the Bangladesh government understands the health and environmental implications of certain forms of energy. According to a 2009 report, Bangladesh could save an estimated 10,000 lives per year if it reduces air pollution in four of its largest cities. In the decade following, Bangladesh increased its energy production through pollutive means. This means energy production, a contributor to such air pollution, is responsible for the deaths of Bangladeshi citizens. Renewable energy in Bangladesh presents an opportunity for Bangladesh to address this issue.

Energy in Comparison

Investing in renewable energy in Bangladesh is a matter of scale. Despite having the world’s largest rural solar installment and investing in wind power, renewable energy in Bangladesh only accounts for 3.3% of the total energy that the country generates. Renewable energy in Bangladesh has the potential to address the remaining energy needs without the pollution of non-renewable energy. This is a major advantage of renewable energy in Bangladesh. Improvements are occurring through more than one main source of renewable energy in Bangladesh: solar and wind.

Nearly 62% of Bangladeshis live in rural areas. This is where the Bangladesh government is working to provide more energy. Solar and wind are increasing the renewable share of Bangladesh’s energy market. Starting in 2003, the Bangladeshi government began the world’s largest rural solar installment. Today, the installment provides clean and reliable power to more than 20 million rural Bangladeshi citizens. Bangladesh also approved the country’s first major wind installment in 2020. Both provide alternatives to Bangladesh’s non-renewable grid.

Solar has a major advantage over other forms of renewable energy in Bangladesh. Solar can be easier to install than fossil-fueled power plants and wind power, especially in rural areas where Bangladesh’s lack of energy currently concentrates. Natural-gas-fueled power plants require significant investment in both finances and physical location and wind installments require similar investments. One can install solar nearly anywhere. This means solar energy in Bangladesh can be effective in its rural areas where large power plants are infeasible. For these reasons, small-scale renewables are growing in popularity.

Alleviating Poverty Through Renewables in Bangladesh

Communities that have access to electricity do better. Small-scale solar installments in similar rural areas to Bangladesh, such as villages in India, give households access to other necessities. Solar energy can more reliably and safely fuel pumps that provide potable water to villages. Bangladesh’s solar installment reduced the consumption of kerosene by 4.4 million liters. In addition, the installment of small-scale solar can provide energy for refrigeration and cooking. This means providing solar energy to remote villages can be effective for the Bangladesh government to ensure electricity is provided for every citizen. The installment of small-scale renewable energy in Bangladesh can mediate two crises: poverty and energy accessibility.

Bangladesh has significantly increased its electricity access. However, past development largely left renewables out. This means renewable energy in Bangladesh can address the remaining accessibility gaps in the electric grid. Future investments in renewables provide a viable pathway for Bangladesh to sustainably develop its most impoverished communities.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

Technology Aids the Construction of Refugee SheltersCOVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh has greatly affected not only the population of 166 million people but also Bangladesh’s 1.1 million Displaced Rohingya People (DRP). When COVID-19 halted the construction of disaster shelters for the DRP, the World Bank and the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) uniquely partnered to remotely design the complex structures. Through this collaboration, the World Bank illustrates how technology aids the construction of refugee shelters in Bangladesh.

How the World Bank Helps the Rohingya

Since its establishment in 1991, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, now houses a population of nearly 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, a stateless Muslim minority group. Decades of persecution in the primarily Buddhist country of Myanmar has caused the Rohingya people to seek refuge in neighboring nations, leading to an influx of refugees into Bangladesh.

However, although welcoming, Bangladesh was not prepared for this extreme influx of refugees. The influx stretched its already scarce resources in an attempt to provide for a continuously growing population. In August 2017 alone, after a massive Burmese attack on Rohingya territories, the Bangladesh refugee camp Kutupalong Balukhali saw its population grow from 200,000 to 500,000. Within weeks, Kutupalong Balukhali had become one of the world’s densest refugee settlements.

With a growing population and few resources, Bangladesh began to plan and implement many multi-purpose disaster shelters/community service centers (MPSC), a part of the World Banks’s Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project. These shelters attempt to resist the nation’s frequent climate disasters and have their own solar panel supplies.

Construction Delays From COVID-19

Construction of these shelters came to a halt in March 2020 and extended until October 2020, as Bangladesh, like the rest of the world, entered a COVID-19 lockdown. The LGED had no access to the building sites. A major delay ensued as the shutdown also made it impossible for any topographic surveys to occur, a necessity for drafting the building layouts.

GIS Technology and Drone Imagery

Innovative measures helped ensure the construction of safe spaces for more than one million Displaced Rohingya People currently residing in Bangladesh. The World Bank updated its Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project to remotely support the LGED.

With the assistance and resources of the World Bank, the LGED acquired the GPS coordinates of the many disaster shelter sites through Geographic Information System (GIS) technology in addition to drone images. The use of drone images and GIS allows for the design of these shelters to take place without the need for physical presence on the site. In this way, technology aids the construction of refugee shelters in Bangladesh.

The “integration of these datasets in coordination with different officials who were in different locations due to countrywide lockdown” presented some difficulties. Despite this, the team proceeded with the plan. The coordinates and drone images aided the project team. The team placed the GPS coordinates over the drone images to get an accurate visual representation of the site and to determine the number of solar panels needed. Meanwhile, “real-time coordination with the architect, structural engineer, field engineer, safeguards specialists and the World Bank team was done using a video conference system.”

The Road Ahead

While the nation is still largely affected by COVID-19, facing 921,559 cases by July 1, 2021, COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh will be eased as its robust Rohingya population can soon seek shelter. Harnessing the power of technology can provide innovative solutions to resolve pandemic-induced barriers in humanitarian efforts.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

Mental Health in Bangladesh
Out of the entire Bangladeshi population, 4% of people suffer from depression. This statistic trails just around 2% behind the world’s most depressed country, Ukraine, with 6.3% of its population suffering from depression. The government, with the assistance of organizations, is taking positive action to address mental health in Bangladesh.

Mental Health in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, there are only 270 psychiatrists and roughly 500 psychologists serving a population of more than 166 million. This equates to 216,000 people per specialist. Most mental health professionals are located in urban areas so people in rural areas have limited access to mental health services. Furthermore, the country’s one government-run mental hospital has only 500 beds. Mental health also has limited funding. Only 0.44% of the government health budget is allocated to the mental health sector.

Mental Health Stressors

Foreign and domestic stressors can contribute to the decline of mental health. For example, recurring natural disasters, the current refugee crisis and overpopulation all affect the mental states of the Bangladeshi population. The country faces recurring floods, tornados and cyclones. A 1996 infamous tornado left 66.6% of its victims psychologically traumatized and in need of emergency psychological assistance. This statistic illustrates the severe psychological effects of natural disasters and the need for more mental health resources.

Since 2007, Bangladesh has taken in nearly 1 million refugees from Myanmar following a military crackdown on Rohingya citizens. This upsurge in population weakened the country’s already limited capacity to respond to both regional disasters and mental health crises. Many of these refugees experienced acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring immediate health assistance. This spur in overpopulation certainly strains resources, exacerbating mental health even further.

Mental Health Stigma in Bangladesh

An estimated 10,000 Bangladeshi people die by suicide annually. However, households and the greater public are reluctant to speak out about mental health problems in fear of societal judgment. Mental health stigma is common throughout Bangladesh and there are many superstitions surrounding mental health conditions. Some believe that evil spirits cause mental health issues.

Others often ostracize people suffering from mental health conditions, leading others to hide their mental struggles and suffer in silence without help. Some people turn to traditional healers for cures. These traditional practices sometimes amount to human rights abuses and may have fatal repercussions. Traditional healers are more prevalent in the countryside where a trained mental health specialist is hard to come by. In rural areas, “village doctors with no formal training provide 65% of healthcare.”

The Good News

Bangladesh passed a new Mental Health Act in 2018, replacing a 105-year-old piece of legislation. The act aims to protect the property rights of those suffering from mental illness and includes provisions for mental health services. However, the act does not address the issue of low mental health funding, which plays an important role in increasing mental health resources. While the act faces some criticism, increased attention on mental health through legislative action is an accomplishment nonetheless.

Bangladesh finalized its National Mental Health Strategic Plan in 2020 and started implementation. In support of this plan, the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health provides assistance to the Ministry of Health in Bangladesh to ensure the effective implementation of the strategy.

Bangladesh is taking concrete action to address mental health in the country. With commitment and support, mental health in Bangladesh can improve.

Caroline Bersch
Photo: Flickr

BRAC Brings Water to PeopleIn the year 1972, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed founded BRAC in Bangladesh. The organization started as a “small relief effort,” eventually becoming a leading global nonprofit. The key mission of the organization is to help people living in poverty around the world. Whether this means tackling illiteracy, health impacts or social injustices, the organization has several programs aimed at reducing the effects of poverty. These goals are reached by implementing proven plans to tackle poverty. BRAC strongly believes in empowering people and communities with the skills and resources to break cycles of poverty and transform their own lives. In 2017, 785 million people around the world did not have access to simple water services. To address this issue, BRAC brings water to people in need through its programs.

Positive Impacts on WASH

BRAC focuses on the issues of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) because the organization understands that these factors contribute to the growth and development of societies. These three necessities are often lacking in impoverished countries. The efforts of BRAC have allowed a total of 2.66 million people to now have access to safe drinking water. By establishing appropriate water technologies for area-specific geohydrological needs, BRAC brings water to people in need. More than 6,000 secondary schools around the world now have access to hygiene facilities and proper hygiene education. Additionally, BRAC has made hygienic and safe latrines available for more than 44 million people around the world.

BRAC and Hydro Industries Partnership

In 2019, BRAC and Hydro Industries entered into a partnership. Past water access solutions have often not considered the fact that the groundwater in Bangladesh is contaminated with arsenic, making it unsafe for people to drink. Hydro Industries provides technological solutions to address such problems. BRAC’s history of proven and effective plans will strengthen this effort.

Hydro Industries asserts that “Passing an electric current through contaminated water” separates and filters contaminants “so that the water emerging from the tap meets the highest possible standards” as the World Health Organisation lays out. The first phase of the collaborative effort between BRAC and Hydro Industries aimed to bring water access to 25,000 people in Bangladesh. The first phase also informs future phases and helps to broaden the scale and impact of efforts.

Hydro Industries’ systems will be extremely helpful to the people in Bangladesh. The systems will provide Bangladeshi people with 40,000 liters of purified water every day. Nick Virr, program director of BRAC United Kingdom, tells BusinessLive that Hydro’s “extensive experience, innovation and high-quality solutions” combined with BRAC’s knowledge of issues and needs “can deliver sustainable improvements in people’s lives at the scale needed.”

Reducing Global Poverty

BRAC and Hydro Industries have already achieved success in their respective areas of work. Their partnership will allow BRAC and Hydro Industries to complement each other and work toward achieving the goal of clean water for all. Since water and poverty are linked, addressing global water access essentially means addressing global poverty.

– Jacob. E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Bangladeshi FarmersAs the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world, smallholder Bangladeshi farmers began to suffer. Worldwide lockdowns disrupted supply chains, which led to economic loss. Agriculture is the dominant industry in Bangladesh and farmers play a significant role in the country’s economy. In Bangladesh, people who live in rural areas rely on farming for food security and income. The World Bank has partnered with the Bangladesh government to disperse emergency funds to smallholder Bangladeshi farmers using geotagging tools.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Bangladeshi Farmers

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and economic dilemmas. In Bangladesh, COVID-19 has critically affected about 300,000 dairy farms and about 70,000 poultry farms. The dairy industry lost $6.7 million daily. Moreover, from March 20 to April 4, 2020, the poultry industry lost more than $1.35 billion. These losses forced farmers to shut down production.

For 16.2 million vegetable-growing farm households in Bangladesh, the pandemic also proved to be detrimental. Urbanization had already caused an increase in vegetable demand. Once COVID-19 hit, supply chains to the cities broke down. Faulty supply chains caused vegetable growers to halt production and incur losses. Farmers in Bangladesh have faced food insecurity and losses of income because of the pandemic.

What is GEMS Technology?

Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision (GEMS) is a technology that collects data from the fields digitally with easy open-source tools. In other words, teams use GEMS technology as a digital monitoring platform to assess visible information. The technology helps its users understand real-time dynamics on the ground. Users can collect data on their smartphones or tablets without the internet while working in the field. This information is saved on the device, and once the user reconnects the device to the internet, the data is saved onto a server. The World Bank first used GEMS technology in South Sudan. Since then, the technology has improved and has been used in projects throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The World Bank Assists Farmers

The World Bank and the Bangladesh government have aided Bangladeshi farmers in need by providing emergency cash transfers to smallholder farmers of dairy, livestock and aquaculture. A top priority for the World Bank is ensuring the correct beneficiaries receive the payments. After recognizing the difficulties in paper surveying, the World Bank decided to use GEMS-style remote supervision tools to ensure payments were sent to the correct beneficiaries. After the organization trained Bangladeshi project teams to understand the new digital tools, the teams used GEMS technology to identify beneficiaries. The technology helped to remove any double-counting and other manual entry errors and offered precise locations on maps.

Two projects have implemented GEMS technology to help Bangladeshi farmers affected by COVID-19 thus far. The Livestock & Dairy Development Project in Bangladesh used the technology to give 620,000 livestock producers emergency money transfers. Additionally, the Bangladesh Sustainable Coastal & Marine Fisheries Project gave 78,000 aquaculture farmers emergency money transfers with the help of geotagging technology.

Moving Forward

With the help of GEMS information technology, the World Bank and Bangladeshi organizations can ensure transparency in cash transfers to Bangladeshi farmers affected by COVID-19. Because the agriculture industry in Bangladesh is so vast, it is important that Bangladeshi farmers receive assistance in order to continue food production. Such assistance is imperative in order for Bangladeshi farmers to successfully recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr

Fashion can Contribute to PovertyFashion can contribute to poverty, but it is also a powerful force that lifts women out of poverty as it has stirred up a feminist movement. Brands that provide a living wage for female garment workers empower them to lead dignified lives. Additionally, these fashion brands give women access to a fair supply chain, proper work and fair wages. As a result, fashion consumers that support ethical fashion brands help advocate for women’s rights through their shopping decisions.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement supports women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. One example of the feminist movement in the fashion industry is the production of t-shirts with feminist quotes. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Oxfam reported that same year that no Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. These workers received 35 pence an hour during 54-hour workweeks, amounting to about £82, which is well below the living wage estimate. This is a clear example of how fashion can contribute to global poverty.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing produced by garment workers all over the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks. This is equal to 10 to 18 hours per day for wages that are two to five times less than what is needed to live sufficiently. In addition, the majority of profits made from fast fashion are paid to top fashion CEOs. In fact, Oxfam states that CEOs earn in four days what a garment worker will make in one lifetime.

Brands that pay garment workers a living wage allow employees to afford essential needs, such as housing, food, transportation, education and savings. In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia stated that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also found that increasing the cost of clothing by $0.20 would ensure Indian garment workers earn a living wage.

SOKO: Ethical Fashion

SOKO empowers garment workers by addressing the most vital human rights abuse in the fashion industry: the non-payment of a living wage. This women-led, ethical jewelry brand produces collections made by more than 2,300 independent Kenyan artisans. SOKO’s virtual manufacturing platform connects with a global marketplace to receive orders and payments. By leveraging technology, artisans earn five times more with SOKO compared to an average artisan workplace. In addition, this U.N.-endorsed brand guarantees workers freedom and sovereignty by limiting artisans’ work to 50% or less of their total capacity. As a result, SOKO artisans have experienced a 12% increase in average artisan income, and SOKO’s sales have impacted 11,400 beneficiaries.

Empowering Girls and Women

The U.N. reports that investing in girls and women helps improve their livelihoods in the long term. Moreover, studies from the World Bank show that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family’s needs, provide care for their family and send their children to school. This helps improve the lives of children and women all over the world. Empowering women also leads to reduced maternal and child mortality levels. When garment workers can afford to send their children to school, economic growth improves and poverty decreases.

The lives of underpaid garment workers are a testament to how fashion can contribute to poverty. Brands that support their garment workers contribute to the feminist movement. Brands support the movement by investing in female education, providing living wages, establishing safe working conditions and empowering workers. Consumers can support the movement by supporting ethical brands that strive to uplift the garment workers making their clothing.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Fast Fashion in BangladeshMerriam Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” To many people, this phrase means trendy clothing for affordable prices, but to the garment workers and citizens of Bangladesh, fast fashion means unlivable wages and unsafe working conditions. Bangladesh is the second-largest producer in the garment industry after China and is home to more than 8,000 garment factories. The clothing produced makes up 83% of the country’s total exports. With more than four million Bangladeshi citizens working in these factories, the stability of the nation depends on the industry, which is controlled by the Global West.

The Fast Fashion Industry

Fast fashion is controlled by demand. The industry needs to pump out clothing quickly so stores have the clothes in stock before the trend fades. American and European demand for Bangladesh to produce is constantly increasing, which creates lower wages, more precarious working conditions and detrimental environmental consequences.

Bangladeshi garment workers make an estimated $25 to $75 a month. This is an impossible wage to live on, especially in large Bangladeshi cities such as Dhaka, where most of the garment factories are located. Nazma Akter, a seamstress in Bangladesh who began working in factories at 11 years old, stated, “We are cheap labor — that is why we are scared; we need money, we need to survive.” With an unlivable wage comes an unlivable life.

This violation of human rights comes with serious economic effects. With such a large percentage of the population living on so little, there are few citizens who are able to invest in Bangladesh, spend money to boost the economy and help lift the nation out of poverty. This low wage, which is only getting lower, is keeping Bangladesh impoverished and fast fashion plays a large role.

Unsafe Working Conditions

Fast fashion’s demand for cheap, fast labor creates low-quality working conditions, which can lead to horrific disasters in garment factories. In 2005, a garment factory collapsed in Dhaka, which killed 64 people and injured more than 100 others. In 2010, a Bangladeshi factory fire killed 26 and injured more than 100. Another fire in 2012 killed 112 workers and injured more than 150. However, the most tragic garment factory disaster was the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which housed five garment factories that sold to countries in North America and Europe. In the collapse, 1,138 people were killed and 2,600 people were injured. The incident revealed the horrible reality of the dangers posed to underpaid Bangladeshi garment workers.

Outside of these large-scale disasters, it is estimated that there are 1.4 million workplace injuries in garment factories every year. Western corporations often manage their factories through a series of subcontractors, creating little to no presence of the actual company in the factory. This allows brands to blame any liability on the subcontractors and removes the obligation to improve working conditions.

Environmental Consequences

The cheap prices of fast fashion cause severe environmental consequences in Bangladesh. Textile production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year and consumes a lot of water. Furthermore, in order to produce clothing quickly and inexpensively, the garment factories use toxic dyes and chemicals. These chemicals are then released into nearby rivers, polluting the water supply. The World Bank estimates that around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from textile dyes. Chemicals released into the water supply increase disease among Bangladeshi citizens.

Effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Bangladesh especially hard. In March 2020, when shutdowns began across the U.S. and Europe, a large retail fallout followed. Many large clothing brands such as Zara, H&M and Gap canceled their orders. In March 2020 alone, 864,17 million pieces of clothing from Bangladeshi factories that cost $2.81 billion were canceled after they had already been produced. This left the workers unpaid, unemployed and unsupported.

The petition #PayUp started trending worldwide, exposing the clothing brands that canceled their orders of Bangladeshi garments without compensating factories and workers. However, many large brands still have not paid. In response to the crisis, the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, announced a bailout of $590 million to be used solely for the salaries and allowances of factory workers.

Industry Reform

The garment industry is deeply ingrained in Bangladesh. If the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic taught any lesson, it is that the solution is not as simple as boycotting. Removing fast fashion would be removing almost the entirety of the Bangladeshi economy. Instead, the solution is reform. The solution is to raise awareness of the poor working conditions and put pressure on the large fashion corporations to create more sustainable clothing, humane working conditions and a livable wage. By holding companies accountable, making informed consumer decisions and advocating for workers’ rights, there is hope in ending the negative consequences of fast fashion in Bangladesh.

Georgia Bynum
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Surjer Hashi NetworkBangladesh is a country in South Asia with a population of 163 million people. As a developing country, Bangladesh struggles to provide adequate healthcare for such a large number of people. The problem particularly brings challenges for people from rural and marginalized communities, who often cannot access quality health services. To combat this issue, the Surjer Hashi Network has been established. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), it is a network of hundreds of health facilities throughout the country. The facilities bring free or reduced-cost healthcare to low-income populations in Bangladesh while simultaneously bringing the country closer to achieving universal healthcare.

Healthcare in Bangladesh

Despite Bangladesh’s current struggles to provide a reasonable level of healthcare for its citizens, the country has made significant progress over the past few decades. Certain indicators have seen improvements such as maternal and infant mortality. Furthermore, the rate of vaccinations for children has increased dramatically, with the percentage of tuberculosis vaccinations for children under 1 increasing from 2% in 1985 to 99% in 2009. While the developments are a good sign, Bangladesh still faces many challenges in maintaining its healthcare system. For instance, the country suffers from a severe shortage of healthcare workers. As of 2009, only about one-third of the country’s facilities have at least 75% of qualified staff working in healthcare and 36% of health worker positions are vacant.

The ineptitude of Bangladesh’s governmental structure and the inability of its institutions to carry out its policies cause problems. The healthcare system is concentrated in urban areas even though 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Meanwhile, careless management obstructs the allocation of resources. Healthcare workers suffer from high turnover and absenteeism while maintenance of facilities is poor. Meanwhile, rural Bangladeshis often forego formal healthcare due to a lack of access in the communities. As a result, only a quarter of the population uses public healthcare.

The Surjer Hashi Network

USAID backs the Surjer Hashi Network of health clinics aiming at serving low-income and other underserved communities in Bangladesh. With 399 facilities nationwide, the network serves at least 16% of the population. In just a five-year period, USAID helped the Surjer Hashi Network prevent 2,000 maternal deaths and 10,000 child deaths. The facilities provide communities with proper healthcare in remote and underserved areas. Rural women, in particular, have benefited as the Surjer Hashi Network of clinics provides for reproductive health and child care.

Universal Healthcare in Bangladesh

In 2018, USAID started the Advancing Universal Health Coverage (AUHC) program, which has allowed the Surjer Hashi Network to remain operable in the long term. The program has consolidated the hundreds of clinics in the network into a centrally managed organization and it has introduced new business models aimed at keeping costs down and expanding health services. The efforts will ensure that clinics in the Surjer Hashi Network will be financially independent while providing high-quality and affordable healthcare for the disadvantaged.

As its name suggests, the AUHC’s goal is to achieve universal healthcare in Bangladesh. Through the Surjer Hashi Network, USAID is ensuring that Bangladesh can provide healthcare coverage for as many people as possible with healthcare facilities that are accessible in rural areas as well.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr