Tourism-Economies
Everyone loves a good vacation or at least it is easy to think that while walking on a white-sand beach and sipping a Mai Tai. The truth lurking behind the tranquility of remote island temples and the prestige of historical landmarks is that tourist economies are not all sunshine and smooth sailing. With off-seasons that take up a large portion of the year and uncertain demand, tourism-economies may be more vulnerable to pitfalls than industrial or agriculture-based economies. The following countries exemplify the great promise and instability of tourism-economies.

Indonesia

Tourism in Indonesia is one of the main draws for foreign currency. In 2018, the number of people coming in from outside of Indonesia rose 12.6% to about 15.8 million. One of the biggest draws in tourism is culture. Countries that do well in tourism carry significant cultural influence in the area or have notable landmarks. For example, the world fetes Italy for its long history, art and cuisine. Meanwhile, statistics have shown that Indonesia underperforms in this sector compared to other countries in the region. Singapore, for example, draws in about 19 million people per year.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh is rapidly developing and this is an overall plus for the economy. However, it could bring a slight hiccup in the years to come. The nation’s main source of income, its textile industry, faces an imminent, irreversible decline with its graduation in development stages. Tourism could be Bangladesh’s biggest hope, with the industry contributing 10.4% to the global GDP. However, tourism only comprised 4.4% of Bangladesh’s GDP as of 2018, painting a bleak picture for the future of tourism. The country has been performing second to least successfully concerning popular destinations in Asia.

What might help is how well South Asia has been performing in tourism. Nations that have performed well in this area, like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, drew in 86% of the region’s total earnings in 2018 – a high Bangladesh was able to ride on the coattails of, as it attempted to market itself as a more desirable tourist destination. In recent years, Southeast and Southern Asia have demonstrated success in tourism, with respective 8% and 10% rates of growth.

One factor that greatly affects tourism is the visa facilities in a country. If tourists find the entry process to be too much of a hassle, they may be less inclined to vacation there. In India, a top-performing country in tourism, most of the world can easily obtain an e-Visa. In Bangladesh, however, in order for a person to gain a visa, many of their neighbors need to secure a visa beforehand. This further hampers an already struggling tourism industry.

Nigeria

Some have long thought of Nigeria as having great tourism potential, although obstacles in economic development stand in the way of meeting this full potential. Countries also have accommodation rates to take into account with tourism economies. Too steep a price may turn travelers off while not charging enough will undercut the profit potential of having a tourism economy to begin with. Since not all currencies convert equally, tourism-economies do well when they draw tourists from places with currencies that are more valuable to them. For example, Nigeria has this advantage over the U.S., with $1 being equal to 381.25 Nigerian Nairas. The average hotel rate in the U.S. was $131.21 per night as of 2019, while in Nigeria, the daily rate averaged anywhere in-between the equivalent of $27 and $128.

Relative Problems

Where tourism differs from other income-generating industries is that demand is less certain. If there is a use for a product, then a demand exists, and if there is a demand, then a country can profit by supplying for that demand. However, with tourism-economies, the “use” that creates demand is fickle, and as such, the success of the country “filling the supply” is less secure.

When the culture cannot compete, visas are too difficult to secure and prices just are not right, it does not just mean that the economy slows. People working in tourism potentially cannot generate an income, even if they can technically perform their jobs correctly. Travel trends and off seasons are out of the control of the low-to-middle income people working in the industry. For those already in a precarious financial situation, finding financial growth and stability in a tourism economy is incredibly difficult. In the past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic has also created further problems for the tourism industry.

Barefoot College International

With COVID-19, travel restrictions and business shutdowns, the tourism industry is all but entirely gone in most countries. As the earning potential of a tourism economy is insecure, some organizations strive to help populations attain more secure means of income. Barefoot College operates in more than 90 countries and is expanding across Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Barefoot College has a variety of boots-on-the-ground efforts to help impoverished communities, including clean water and environmentally conscious health initiatives. It also has a strong education program that provides academic and practical skills that can help people increase their earning potential and make it easier for them to get jobs. Its focus is on digital education so that its work is accessible for people anywhere in the world.

After 40 years, 75,000 children have received an education, 65% of whom have been girls. From here, 40% of the children educated through Barefoot College have been able to enter their country’s mainstream education system. Of those educated through Barefoot College, 30% went on to become employed at jobs that required literacy. After graduating, 85% of those considering migrating decided to stay in their village to use their acquired knowledge and skills there.

While tourism-economies can be very profitable, changing factors such as a global pandemic cause many of these economies to be unstable. Organizations like Barefoot College help provide much-needed stability to tourism-economies. Moving forward, it is essential that more organizations work to find long-term economic solutions for countries that rely heavily on the tourism industry to help ensure a stable economic future.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Health in Bangladesh
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG founded the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) in 1972. The nonprofit began as a localized program in northeastern Bangladesh to promote agricultural reform and educational training. BRAC now influences over 11 countries in both Asia and Africa. It hones in on projects that work to improve social lives, social enterprises, national investments and university opportunities. The organization’s main accomplishments pertain to improving health in Bangladesh. Desiring the collaboration activists, BRAC enhances the abilities of individuals to gain work experience, especially with an environment that supports their physical and mental health.

Healthcare Issues in Bangladesh

Out-of-pocket spending on healthcare in Bangladesh is around 64.3% of total health spending. Bangladesh spends approximately $1.49 billion annually on situations concerning one’s health. This is concerning as average income households spend 7.5% of their total earnings on healthcare, with the least financially stable citizens, comprising the poorest 20%, spending 13.5%. The need to spend a large amount of income on healthcare puts a strain on Bangladesh families, especially since a little over 20% of the population lives below the national poverty line. Around 10% are employed for under $1.90 a day.

Money is not the only factor affecting people in Bangladesh. Only 34.6% of the population has access to purified drinking water as the country has the largest amount of citizens infected by arsenic-filled water. This dangerous chemical still contaminates nearly 10% of the water supply. Furthermore, 28.3% of the population drinks water infiltrated with various diseases that further damage physical health. Of further concern is the fact that sanitation only improves by 1.1% annually, not growing fast enough to better the environment that many citizens live in. Over 40% of latrines are unimproved, with the sewage waste even running into waterways due to a lack of sanitation programs. This exemplifies the necessity to improve individual health in Bangladesh.

Health and Nutrition

High annual healthcare costs are driving 5 million Bangladesh civilians into poverty. As a result, BRAC has deployed many healthcare workers to directly work with citizens in Bangladesh. They ensure citizens have access to quality, affordable health services. Establishing Essential Health Care (EHC), the nonprofit works to improve the immune systems of individuals. The EHC assures that people are not as easily susceptible to various diseases in the environment or water supplies. In addition to providing healthcare services for mothers and children, it also works on basic treatments to counteract the negative effects of acute respiratory infections at an affordable price. This specific program partnered with government agencies in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and now offers healthcare opportunities to more than 120 million people in the 64 districts of Bangladesh.

With the sub-section of the Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction – Targeting the Ultra Poor (CFPR-TUP) program, BRAC designs special needs for the 8% of the Bangladesh population that suffers from extreme poverty. Moreover, it created its Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program to provide supplementary foods to both mothers and children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Not only does this program support those suffering from malnutrition, but it eases the pain that mothers have to go through when breastfeeding and lack of vitamin intake. This enabled the education of 2 million women regarding healthy diets and the benefits of breastfeeding.

The WASH Program

The WASH program works toward improving water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh and to create more hygienic practices. It has started its journey in the country by focusing on education. Many do not learn about the necessity of cleanliness. Through BRAC, however, 5,700 secondary schools have now included hygiene discussions in their curriculums. The organization is also working to ensure that local research facilities provide affordable opportunities to test every district’s water supplies.

Additionally, the nonprofit partnered with Jamalpur municipality to operate a waste plant. This effort counteracts the intrusion of waste into clean waterways. Volunteers and BRAC workers work through the WASH program to ensure health in Bangladesh. They especially focus on Rohingya refugee camps and areas that experience the effect of floods. Every dollar that goes to the program results in $4 towards sanitation improvements in Bangladesh.

BRAC wants to increase the professionalism of frontline services and introduce a strong variety of for-profit products and programs. It continues affordable programs to improve Bangladesh citizens’ health and focuses on cleaning the water supply, like introducing hanging latrines and counteracting the malnutrition that mothers and children suffer from. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee strives specifically to reform the healthcare system in this South Asian country through such actions. Its achievements include giving 2.52 million people access to safe drinking water with the aid of technological advancements. Through its various accomplishments, this nonprofit continues to achieve more every year even after nearly 50 years of service.

Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

Elderly in BangladeshThe world currently has approximately 720 million people over the age of 65. By 2050, about 22% (36 million) of Bangladesh’s people are projected to be in this age category. With this in mind, it is important that this growing demographic is taken care of. In particular, the poverty affecting the elderly in Bangladesh is a concern that should be attended to.

Elderly Poverty in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is one of the most impoverished countries and the effects of poverty are felt hardest by vulnerable populations like the elderly. The Global AgeWatch Index ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring socially and economically. Bangladesh is considered a distinctly tough country for older people as HelpAge International ranked Bangladesh 67th out of 96 countries on the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index.

The organization notes that a considerable amount of the hardship inflicted upon older people in Bangladesh is due to natural disasters and extreme weather. Cyclones, floods, and heatwaves destroy the homes and livelihoods of elderly people. Additionally, HelpAge notes that elderly people in Bangladesh are often refused healthcare due to ageism within the country’s public health system.

Elderly people in Bangladesh also struggle to maintain a dependable income since finding employment is harder with age, especially with common and physically demanding jobs like rickshaw pulling or soil digging.  As in many other lower-income countries, elderly people in Bangladesh have to look for employment in old age due to inadequate livelihood support and insufficient social security measures.

While by no means exclusive to Bangladesh, another problem that the elderly face in Bangladesh is stigma, as pointed out by Dr. Atiqur Rahman. The stigma described is one that views the elderly as unproductive, unhealthy and needing intensive and constant care. Dr. Rahman describes the idea of the elderly being a burden as both morally and economically incorrect.

Old Age Allowance Program

The Old Age Allowance (OAA) program is a government social pension scheme that assists the elderly in Bangladesh. Originally implemented in 1997, the program provides welfare payments to qualifying elders in order to help them get by. The overall size of the program was rather small at its inception, supporting about 400,000 people. Since then, the OAA has come to cover 4.4 million elderly in Bangladesh and the size of the payments increased from 100 to 500 Bangladeshi takas (around $6). Granted the growth is a step in the right direction, the program is not yet at a point where it can help in the broad sense. Elderly poverty has still increased since it started. The OAA program accounts for a minuscule portion of Bangladesh’s budget (0.53%) and covers only 2.25 million elderly people.

Additionally, much of the fund is going to the wrong people. A study by the University of Dhaka’s Bureau of Economic Research and HelpAge International discovered that elderly people who are not impoverished are getting 50% of the total benefits and about 33% of the fund is going to those who are younger than the eligible age. Another study found that local governments lack the knowledge and interest to properly target relevant beneficiaries most in need.

Organizations Supporting the Elderly in Bangladesh

HelpAge International provides early warning systems for potential natural disasters. In times of these disasters, the organization ensures the elderly have shelter, food and access to services. For long-term relief, HelpAge restores livelihoods by supporting small business enterprises with low-cost community loans. The organization also provides training for healthcare workers to treat conditions affecting the elderly and works on improving healthcare infrastructure and referral systems for the elderly.

The Care First Foundation is an organization that offers the elderly in Bangladesh risk monitoring, referrals, counseling, medicine and medical support, home care and activities. Its goal is to expand its initiatives to alleviate elderly suffering through proper community support and services.

With more support from organizations and improvements to the social support system provided by the government, the elderly in Bangladesh can thrive and not just simply survive.

Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

Improve Education in BangladeshIn a speech given at a Boston high school in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For many of the world’s impoverished, education is not an option. Today, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and nearly 759 million adults are illiterate. While many maintain the capacity to survive without an education, the knowledge and awareness garnered through school allows the impoverished to improve their living conditions and rise out of poverty. USAID and the World Bank are working to improve education in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty.

The State of Education in Bangladesh

In the last 10 years, there has been progress when it comes to improving education in Bangladesh. According to USAID, nearly 98% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school. In 2016, 50.9% of all enrolled students were girls, meaning total gender parity. Both of these statistics are major accomplishments but there is much more to be done to improve education in Bangladesh.

While enrollment is high, the quality of education that the children are receiving remains quite low. Reading fluency is the barometer that is used to measure a school system’s quality, and in Bangladesh, most students are unable to pass basic fluency assessments. To put exact numbers to this, USAID conducted an assessment and determined that “44% of students finish first-grade unable to read their first word and 27 % of third-grade students cannot read with comprehension.”

This lack of literacy not only puts these students at a great disadvantage but stunts prospects of economic growth for Bangladesh. Education plays a significant role in sustaining and developing countries and economies which is why USAID and the World Bank have invested in improving Bangladesh’s education system.

The World Bank’s Education Efforts

On January 18, 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank, financing $6.5 million to help more than 39,000 kids receive primary school education. The package also allocates funds to vocational training schools for approximately 8,500 dropouts. Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, says that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the education of children from lower-income households. The additional financing will help slum children and vulnerable youth to build the foundations necessary to improve their lives and increase their opportunities. The World Bank has given Bangladesh the means necessary to improve the quality of their education system and thus support the greater economy.

USAID’s Educational Assistance

USAID has taken a more hands-on approach in improving the quality of education. It works directly with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to improve early grade reading for children to ensure that all children learn to read in their first years of schooling. USAID’s education programs in Bangladesh have:

  • Expanded access to schooling to almost 30,000 out-of-school children
  • Increased the reading fluency of third graders by 18%
  • Increased the first-word reading fluency of first graders by 36%
  • Trained nearly 17,000 new teachers on how to teach early grade reading
  • Issued more than two million reading materials to primary schools

Education as a Key to Poverty Reduction

Every young mind deserves the opportunity for education and with the help of the World Bank and USAID, Bangladesh has the means to offer that. Efforts to improve education in Bangladesh will uplift an entire nation. The state of education in the world is progressing and thus bringing about poverty reduction success.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

How Promoting Gender Equality Can Help Fight TerrorismA 2020 brief by the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism denotes a reciprocal relationship between gender inequality and terrorism, whereby terrorism underpins gender inequality by inspiring violence against women. In the same manner, gender inequalities fuel terrorism and gender equality fights terrorism, as most terrorist groups exploit gender norms to violate women’s rights. Research by The Brookings Institution revealed that societies that prioritize gender equality are less likely to engage in internal and external violence. Consequently, gender equality and female empowerment are two of the most critical strategies to put in place to fight terrorism.

The Correlation between Gender Inequality and Terrorism

A study examining the in-depth link between gender, terrorism and foreign fighters hypothesized that countries that tolerate domestic violence against women are more likely to experience political violence and extremism. The same study found that the majority of radicalized individuals have a past history of domestic violence and crimes against women.

A strong correlation coefficient of 0.6 exists between lower levels of violence against women and higher democratic quality. As a higher level of democracy implies a lower prevalence of terrorism, this implicitly indicates that promoting gender equality strengthens efficient and effective democracy, which weakens terrorism. Democratic efforts further support the societal benefits of efforts where gender equality fights terrorism.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why both men and women engage in terrorism, compounding factors that primarily affect women may be one of the answers. In a cruelly cyclical manner, such factors include a lack of decision-making power over household finances and a desire for greater independence.

Furthermore, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) lists rape and coercive familial relationships as among the factors that push women into terrorism.

Case study: Bangladesh & Morocco’s Success Stories

The strong correlation that exists between gender inequality and terrorism leaves no doubt that promoting gender equality and female empowerment is one of the best strategies to put into place to deter terrorism. This strategy has successfully worked in countries like Bangladesh and Morocco.

Since 2005, Bangladesh has not experienced any significant non-political terrorist attacks. Since 2011, Morocco has not either. A similarity between the two countries, apart from success in suppressing terrorism, is an emphasis on women’s empowerment and integration of counter-terrorism efforts.

As a Bangladeshi representative at the country’s Washington Embassy disclosed, the country substantially owes its success in countering terrorism to the inclusion of female empowerment in its local Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts.

Measures that the Bangladeshi Government has taken to empower women include employment efforts. The Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry is the largest employer of women in Bangladesh. For self-employment measures, the government established micro-credit and micro-lending programs for women, which have significantly improved the standards of living of Bangladeshi women. These lending programs have helped women start and successfully run small businesses.

The newfound sense of independence, self-esteem and self-worth among Bangladeshi women has increased their economic participation, furthered their education and boosted their social empowerment. Bangladesh has also worked to inspire girls through education by ensuring that 60% of remote primary school teachers are women.

Likewise, Morocco has implemented various measures which have successfully helped the country to curb extremism and terrorism. These include raising the minimum marriage age to 18 for women; allotting shared property rights through marriage; introducing restrictions on polygamy, which significantly lowered its incidence; allowing women to initiate divorce by law; and making it possible for women to retain custody of children after divorce.

Looking Ahead

Former Secretary to the U.N. Kofi Annan declared, “There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole — women and men alike — than the one which involves women as central players.”

Promoting gender equality and female empowerment has proven to be a crucial measure to fight terrorism. The level of success at which this strategy has helped control terrorism in countries clearly signals its efficacy. Ultimately, gender equality fights terrorism, weakening it across the board and limiting those who engage in it in a variety of ways. Based on national examples, promoting and developing gender equality promises the same — or even better — results if enacted at a global level.

– Divine Mbabazi
Photo: Flickr

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation ProgramOf the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first one sets an ambitious target. To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere and to leave no one behind. One such organization embracing this challenge is Bangladesh’s BRAC. BRAC is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organizations founded in Bangladesh that has done a tremendous amount of work fighting extreme poverty in Bangladesh. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program has seen success globally.

Poverty Progress in Bangladesh

Nestled between India and Myanmar in South Asia, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in combating extreme poverty in a relatively short amount of time. In a little over a decade, 25 million people were lifted out of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, eight million people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Although poverty rates were seeing a steady decrease, those living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh still lacked basic safety nets and support from NGO services.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) Program

In 2002, BRAC introduced the innovative Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program in an attempt to apply innovative approaches to solve extreme poverty in Bangladesh and across the globe.

The UPG program aims to provide long-term holistic support for those in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of poverty and graduate to a more resilient and sustainable life. This is done by addressing the social, economic and health needs of poor families while empowering them to learn new skills and better financial management.

BRAC believes that while traditional government interventions such as food aid and cash transfers are impactful and have a role to play, these benefits, unfortunately, remain out of reach for many in extreme poverty and are certainly not a long-term solution.

BRAC’s UPG program sets to build skill sets and assets to ensure families are equipped to become food secure, independent and achieve economical sustainability.

The Success of UPG Programs Globally

The program has found success inside and outside Bangladesh and has received praise and acknowledgment in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.

Take for example the country of South Sudan. From 2013 to 2015 BRAC piloted a project involving 240 women. The program provided support for the women to receive food stipends, asset transfers and various skills training that included financial and basic savings skills.

Shortly after the women received training and support, the South Sudanese Civil War escalated, ravaging the country and causing inflation and food shortages.

Despite these shocks, 97% of the 240 women were still able to increase their consumption thanks to the resources, assets and skills they obtained during the program. Also, their children were 53% less likely to be underweight and malnourished, compared to those who had not been in the program.

More Success in Afghanistan and Other Countries

Another example comes from Afghanistan, where a widowed woman in the Bamiyan province received a flock of sheep and training from BRAC. Since then, she has been able to generate enough income to feed her family, send her grandchildren to school,  sell additional products and save for the future.

From 2007 to 2014, a large-scale UPG program across Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru saw a 4.9% increase in household consumption, 13.6% increase in asset values and a 95.7% increase in savings pooled across all countries.

The success of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program can be clearly seen from the results. It is an innovative program that aims to end all poverty and leave no one behind and is successfully on its way to doing so.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a small country in South Asia bordered by India and Myanmar. With a population of 161 million, the country had a poverty rate of 21.8% in 2018. Since its inception in 1971, Bangladesh has faced a myriad of issues. In 1971, the annual GDP was -14%, the country was plagued by famine and floods and there were high rates of political instability. In recent years, the government has been actively working to reduce poverty in Bangladesh by addressing concerns across a variety of sectors. According to the Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh currently has the fastest growing economy in the region.

Involvement of NGOs

Several NGOs have been involved in Bangladesh’s economic success. These NGOs include Practical Action Bangladesh (PAB) and Proshika. These two NGOs have worked to implement policies that have allowed Bangladesh to better support its working population, namely by focusing on entrepreneurship.

Proshika is a Bangladesh-based NGO concerned with skills training and employee management. The NGO is responsible for starting the Small Economic Enterprise Development (SEED) program, which was created to help impoverished people and reduce poverty in Bangladesh. This program provides microloans, employee training, technology help, business consultation and more.

PAB has worked on a similar initiative in the form of the Markets and Livelihoods Programme (MLP), which provides training, technology help and more. These programs were studied in relation to the smith communities (blacksmiths, goldsmiths, etc.) in Bangladesh. The smith communities are some of the most impoverished in the country. In a 2015 paper published by Rezaul Islam at the University of Dhaka, Islam found that these programs were essential to allow these communities to prosper and create financial growth by encouraging entrepreneurship.

Diversifying Exports

Bangladesh has emerged in recent years as a major export provider for a variety of goods. In 2018, Bangladesh’s exports increased by 4.5%, increasing an additional 10.1% in 2019. Bangladesh is a significant producer of rice, jute, mangoes, vegetables and inland fish. Recently, Bangladesh has also been exporting technology, exporting four ships to India and 12 robots to South Korea.

Investing in Education

Bangladesh has also taken great strides to invest in the education of its young workforce. Every year, Bangladesh is seeing 500,000 students graduate from college, of which 65,000 receive IT training. This has transitioned Bangladesh’s economy from rural-based agriculture to a more urban and modern economy.

Bangladesh has also been working hard to address the gender disparity gaps in education. In 2015, Bangladesh was one of a handful of countries that managed to achieve an equal amount of school enrollment across genders and had more girls than boys enrolled in secondary education.

Developing the IT Sector

Bangladesh has developed the information technology (IT) sector of its economy, which now totals to a little more than 50% of the country’s GDP. The country has established around 8,000 digital centers across the nation and scaled up internet and phone coverage.

Annually, Bangladesh’s technology products exports total about $1 billion. The government hopes to increase this number to 5 billion USD by the end of 2021. The country also boasts about 600,000 IT freelancers.

Increases in Foreign Investment

All of Bangladesh’s economic growth has yielded another benefit: increased foreign investment. Investors from around the world have chosen to invest heavily in Bangladesh’s economy, demonstrating the strong growth potential of Bangladesh. In 2019, foreign investment increased by 42.9%. HSBC bank has predicted that Bangladesh can achieve a spot in the top 30 economies of the world by 2030.

Bangladesh demonstrates how growing the economy can help fight poverty. Increases in job opportunities, employee training, education and more benefit the impoverished in the country. Moving forward, it is essential that efforts to reduce poverty in Bangladesh continue.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

Monsoons in South Asian Countries
Monsoons are seasonal changes in the direction of the wind in a region that causes wet and dry seasons. This phenomenon is most associated with the Indian Ocean where its effects greatly impact South Asian countries. The summer monsoon, which occurs between April and September, brings the wet season. Warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean moves inland and brings heavy rainfall and a humid climate. In contrast, the winter monsoon occurs between October and April and brings the dry season, but it is often weaker than the summer monsoons as the Himalayan Mountains prevent most of the dry air from reaching coastal countries. Monsoons in South Asian countries contribute to many industries, such as farming and electricity, however, there are adverse effects.

Negative Impacts of Monsoons in South Asian Countries

Here is a closer look at how monsoons have impacted some countries.

  1. India. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India is one of Asia’s largest countries. Agriculture makes up 15% of the country’s gross domestic product and more than half of the population works in this industry. Consequently, when there is too little or too much rainfall it can be severely damaging to the economy and the livelihoods of millions. The 2009 summer monsoon, for example, brought low rainfall that prevented farmers from planting their crops. Farmers were left to sell their starved farm animals for only a fraction of the normal price. Years with little rainfall also affect India’s electricity as hydropower makes up 25% of its energy source. Likewise, higher levels of rainfall can lead to floods, coastal damage and other disasters. In 2019, flooding due to heavy rain led to 1,200 deaths and millions of displaced individuals.
  2. Bangladesh. The low elevation and dense population of Bangladesh make it extra vulnerable to the impact of monsoons. Now, with the rise of COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in the country, the summer 2020 monsoon has affected 5.4 million lives. This monsoon season brought heavy rainfall that led to the worst floods Bangladesh has faced within the last decade. Nearly a million homes were submerged underwater and 600 square miles of farmland faced damage due to the floods. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made relief efforts difficult to reach the country.
  3. Pakistan. Similar to Bangladesh, Pakistan also faced heavy rainfall and floods from the 2020 monsoon season. More than 400 people have died with another 400 injured and more than 200,000 homes severely damaged by floods and landslides across the country. The government reported that the excessive rainfall destroyed nearly 1 million acres of farmland leaving farmers and consumers in a difficult position. In the Sindh Province, the impact of the monsoon displaced 68,000 people who are now in relief camps. The summer monsoons also affect the short-term and long-term health of victims as disease and infection spread faster within relief camps and the water.  In 2010, communities affected by flooding reported 113,981 cases of respiratory tract infections.

Relief Efforts

The countries above are only a few of the several areas affected by monsoons in the region. Fortunately, several agencies provide emergency relief for monsoons in South Asian countries. During the 2020 floods, the U.N. helped with the evacuation of 500,000 people and prepared to provide humanitarian aid to the most affected and vulnerable communities. In Bangladesh, humanitarian agencies worked closely with the government to provide victims with basic necessities, such as food, water, shelter and other supplies.

Additionally, the U.N. launched a $40 million response plan to help more than 1 million people. The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations gave more than $1 million in emergency funding to provide relief to the Sindh Province in Pakistan and funded other operations that provided basic needs to 96,250 people. Other agencies such as UNICEF are on standby, ready to provide relief to any country impacted by natural disasters. The work of these organizations is critical to saving lives.

Giselle Ramirez-Garcia
Photo: Flickr

The Spreeha Foundation of BangladeshIn Bangladesh, millions of children are living in poverty without any assistance. For this reason, the nonprofit organization, Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation, comes in and fulfills its mission. Spreeha greatly supports Bangladeshi children; the organization uses creative solutions to empower people to reach their full potential.

One Spreeha-run program that guarantees support for Bangladeshi girls is called Progga. The program aims to empower young girls with important life skills, especially leadership values. Approximately 13.7 million Bangladeshi girls feel disorganized and vulnerable during their adolescent years and are lacking the correct guidance. Those who go without counsel are more likely to perform poorly or drop out of school. Additionally, they have a higher risk of mental and physical abuse. This inevitably leads to lower possibilities of female representation in leadership positions.

Spreeha’s solution is to motivate young Bangladeshi girls to become leaders through an interactive method. Progga groups educate young girls on how to make proper judgments that enhance their socio-economic situations and overall security. The organization achieves this goal by encouraging awareness of developmental changes in Bangladesh. The organization mentors young girls using group collaboration with speech and debate to develop their leadership skills and improve their self-confidence.

COVID Complications

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life hard to bear, especially for children in Bangladesh. Thankfully, Spreeha has developed solutions to combat the crisis. Doctors and health care workers make up the primary components of the organization. They engage in door-to-door visits, providing counsel and consciousness to the community. Spreeha also informs the community on how to prevent infections during the pandemic.

In an attempt to support Bangladeshi children, Spreeha has helped prevent infection by temporarily shutting down the before and after-school programs as well as adolescent girls’ clubs. Urban populated areas of Bangladesh are very dense, therefore, they are more susceptible to coronavirus. The young children are unaware of how dangerous the virus is, which is why Spreeha is working tirelessly to ensure their safety. With the economy in disarray, the daily wage-earning Bengali workers are most affected. Spreeha urges the communities to support each other during these uncertain times.

How it Began

Tazin Shahid is the founder of the Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation. He desires to help more Bangladeshi people and ensure that Spreeha can support the children. Along with education and job training services, Spreeha has developed a business incubator called Spreeha Studios. The company promotes startup companies. These services have helped more than 125,000 people, including business owners with families.

Prior to the founding of Spreeha, Shahid worked for Microsoft. This profession pushed him to contact 1 million people by the start of the new decade. He accomplished this by “hitting refresh,” meaning to start anew in a world with less poverty. According to Shahid, the first stage of Spreeha involved ending the succession of poverty. The second was to shatter social obstacles. Finally, the third involves encouraging people to follow their dreams and desires.

The organization began in 2011 when Shahid still worked for Microsoft. He yearned to build a world where those living in poverty can be inspired to improve their lives. At first, Spreeha was a small transportable health clinic with only one doctor and very little medicine. Early on, the funding came from Shahid’s Microsoft companions. The medical center was generous enough to aid 10,000 to 20,000 people in two provinces.

Eventually, Spreeha was reworked to include many other ways to help Bangladeshi families. The Bangladeshi children received affordable health care from the Sneho Diagnostic Center as well as medical diagnoses from the mobile Amar Lab. New ventures included the aforementioned leadership program, Progga, and the early childhood development and daycare center for children and education center for mothers, the Udoy Center. Shahid has reached his objective of helping 1 million people by providing education to 3,669 children in addition to 65,119 receiving health care and 68,033 gaining counseling.

The Overall Mission

The CEO of Spreeha, Ferdouse Oneza, spoke with The Borgen Project. He says, “Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty. We look at the root causes of poverty. Right now we have a clinic in Bangladesh as well as pre and after-school programs. We educate them for fun and teach them social skills.”

With the pandemic, issues of poverty are worsening. Spreeha continues to create safe spaces for the less fortunate. It is a pivotal reason why the communities of Bangladesh are still intact. One issue of safety Bangladeshi children face is the legalization of child marriage. Girls in Bangladesh are in danger of being forced into arranged marriages with significantly older men. Millions of these girls are younger than 15. This is currently legal due to a loophole in the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

Oneza says Spreeha addresses child marriage by raising awareness of the issue and educating children. By going door-to-door to counsel parents, Spreeha hopes to change societal perspectives on child marriage. Oneza describes, “One of our girls was working for Spreeha but was engaged to someone way older than her. She dropped out of her university but after some campaigning, she was allowed to finish her education first and then get married.” Oneza says further that “During the pandemic, a lot of families are moving to the villages. This puts the girls at risk because they don’t have the Spreeha service so their parents marry them off.”

Although the nonprofit does not engage in influencing policymaking, the Spreeha Foundation of Bangladesh still makes a significant impact by supporting Bangladeshi children through active community involvement and inspiring individuals to prosper.

Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Protect BangladeshThe Hunger Project is a global nonprofit organization that strategizes to help end hunger and alleviate poverty in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. The Hunger Project has worked in Bangladesh since 1990. It focuses on achieving the U.N. 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Additionally, the organization works to address corruption and gender discrimination to end hunger as a way to protect Bangladesh in 185 SDG unions. The poverty rate in Bangladesh has increased from 20.5% in 2019 to 29.5% in June 2020 due to an unemployment increase.

The Hunger Project Bangladesh Work History

Prior to COVID-19, The Hunger Project Bangladesh partnered with the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (NGCAF) and Citizens for Good Governance (SHUJAN), seeking to achieve gender equality and eliminate corruption in Bangladesh. The organization has 109,319 trained volunteers who help Bangladesh SDG unions act toward ending hunger and other issues in Bangladesh. The four goals of the organization include mobilizing rural communities to take self-protective actions, empowering women, strengthening local government and helping build advocacy alliances between NGOs, CSOs and 63 civil society leaders as a way to protect Bangladesh.

The Hunger Project and Citizens for Good Governance established two COVID-19 social media live streams. One was with Hunger Project Bangladesh Country Director Badiul Majumdar and contagious disease expert Dr. MH Chowdhury Lelin co-hosted the other. The social media live streams helped spread reliable COVID-19 protection information while discouraging the spread of misinformation.

The COVID-19 Resilient Villages is one Hunger Project program. It follows World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and helps keep Bangladesh communities safe. Bangladesh village volunteers from 1,100 Village Development Teams created and distributed approximately 137,160 face masks, various hygiene products and COVID-19 protection information as of October 2020.

Organizational COVID-19 Goals

The Hunger Project continues to work with a volunteer-based approach that provides SDG and COVID-19 support. Deputy Director Jamirul Islam notified The Borgen Project that “during lockdown at the beginning of COVID-19, our volunteers started an initiative to collect cash and kind from solvent peoples” to give to homes without food. Islam told The Borgen Project that the organization implements this initiative in 129 SDG unions and 1,161 villages across Bangladesh. The organization believes “that people can be the author of their own futures, so people have to work to create their own paycheck.”

The Hunger Project advocated and supported two 2014 goals from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The organization aimed to end marriages for girls younger than 15 by 2021 and eliminate child marriages by 2041. The Hunger Project agreed with 168 organizations in the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum to stop the Bangladesh government from lowering the female marriage age to 16. This action resulted in 18 becoming the determined marriage age for girls except for if they receive parental consent. The organization also trained 9,400 people in water, sanitation and hygiene workshops in Bangladesh since March 2020.

Plans and Partnerships to Protect Bangladesh

Islam told The Borgen Project about how the organization empowers youth unit members and other volunteers. The organization arranges Coronavirus Resilient Village and Risk Communication in-person training. Islam said that “in each meeting, we try to connect teachers and students during COVID-19.” The Bangladesh Coronavirus Resilient Village (CRV) model has four stages that bring people together, promote COVID-19 precautions through the 3 W campaign, identify people with COVID-19 symptoms and economically support vulnerable homes and farms as a way to protect Bangladesh in approximately 1,500 villages.

Islam tells The Borgen Project that The Hunger Project Bangladesh partners with UNICEF Bangladesh, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and The Hunger Project Australia and the Netherlands. Together, they provide technical and financial support for building Coronavirus Resilient Villages. Since COVID-19, Islam noticed how “people organize themselves,” in order to be “united to fight to save themselves and to help each other.”

Islam notified The Borgen Project about how the organization partners with World Vision, Save the Children and three other NGOs to initiate the Right 2 Grow project. The project will help improve nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) protocols. It will also work on other initiatives in Bangladesh by focusing on SDGs 2, 3 and 5 from January 2021 to 2025.

The development of the project to employ SDGs 2, 3 and 5 began in November 2020 to help end hunger, ensure community health and well-being and promote gender equality. The project works in six countries including the Khulna, Patuakhali, Sathkira and Barguna Bangladesh districts. These districts have experienced repression due to various civic space issues. Both programs help villages through NGOs, CSOs and local government support while the organization focuses on peace facilitator groups related to SDG 16.

Looking Ahead

During COVID-19, the nonprofit organization taught community leaders how to advocate for COVID-19 response and circulate village resources. The Hunger Project continues volunteer CRV and Risk Communication online and in-person training in Bangladesh. The organization prepared 500,000 local leaders for COVID-19 in 13 countries as of May 2020. In September 2020, Majumdar contributed to the Bangladesh 2020 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index, which rates everything from CSO advocacy to service provisions. As Bangladesh has seen decreased COVID-19 case numbers since December 2020, the villages await vaccines that should arrive by February 2021.

Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr