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Poverty in Bangladesh
“I don’t want to think about my life. It’s a very hard story.” This is the nation’s cry that representatives of the BRAC Programme hear countless times. Village communities in Bangladesh have withstood such extreme poverty conditions that the majority of the population are illiterate, cannot afford to eat, and many families have to separate from and relocate children in order to provide efficient child-rearing.

According to The Guardian, the BRAC Programme, otherwise known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, seeks to equip impoverished individuals with accessibility to tangibles in the form of livestock so that they are able to financially sustain themselves within two years. Rather than providing a temporary fix, “poverty graduation,” as BRAC calls it, develops confident, self-sustaining people through financial education, literacy and learning to care for livestock. Children especially benefit from economic improvements as the likelihood of displacement has decreased and education opportunities have increased. In the village of Karli, every child now attends school, which is an increase from just 20 percent ten years ago.

BRAC also serves as a source of relief for recent disasters such as the fire that took place Dec. 4 in Korail, “the biggest slum” located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Within the first hour of the fire, BRAC staffers were at ground zero helping facilitate first aid camps, provide food and water and connect victims with family members. The fire that rapidly spread destroyed 495 homes making 2,000 people homeless. According to the BRAC response team, it will cost 12.4 million Bangladesh taka (USD$156,000) to rebuild what was lost. Fortunately, thanks to the seven-day donation drive supporting the victims of Korail, BRAC has assisted in raising 8.8 million takas.

Continual success occurs in Bangladesh as a result of BRAC efforts; 90,000 families a year receive assistance and a total of more than “1.7 million households have been transformed.” Thirty-five-year-old Rezia Begum recalls she “was half-naked when BRAC arrived, I didn’t even have clothes.” That was almost 20 years ago; now she owns her own land and animals, all six of her children have received an education, and she participates in charitable acts rather than relying on contributions.

As one of the world’s leading organizations that targets poverty, the BRAC Programme seeks to empower impoverished people by tackling poverty “at the root, and plants trees of hope.” It is this newfound hope that can transform the narrative from heartache into joy in overcoming the conditions of poverty.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

climate_change_in_bangladeshWithin the scientific community, it is a foregone conclusion that developing coastal nations with lowland geography are the most susceptible to impending climatic changes. Bangladesh has recently begun to see these effects with sea levels rising and more frequent and intensified weather conditions. Being situated in Southeast Asia, the country is already susceptible to monsoons, landslides, hurricanes and natural flooding. These factors present an alarming set of natural environmental implications.

This is especially true for a country where a quarter of the land area is less than 7 feet above sea level. Bangladeshi scientists have estimated that by 2050, 17 percent of the country area will have been submerged. This would displace roughly 18 million people and, in turn, significantly cut the country’s food supply.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and underdeveloped countries in the world. The country has roughly a fifth of the land area of France and contains a population of about 166 Million. This has resulted in an incredibly high population density at 755 persons per km. This set of circumstances poses a serious problem for almost all current climate projections and estimates.

The overpopulation has also caused a great strain upon the country’s remaining fertile lands. Bangladesh lies in the Ganges River Delta which is made up of over 230 rivers and streams. Approximately 55 percent of the country’s low lying geography is arable land, making agriculture one of Bangladesh’s biggest industries. Currently, 45 percent of the country’s workforce lives in and relies upon a suddenly shrinking agriculture industry.

As flooding increases and sea levels rise, there is simply not enough arable land to sustain a country of over 160 million people. The country’s economy is mostly agrarian-based and many residents are subsistence farmers. The floods have completely destroyed many of the county’s rice crops which are a staple of the Bangladeshi diet and crucial for many farmers’ livelihoods.

Historical data shows that floods have increased in frequency, intensity and duration since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. This past summer, flooding in Northern Bangladesh left half a million people displaced and homeless. The two main rivers of Bangladesh, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra, rose to dangerous levels and completely flooded 14 of the country’s 64 districts. Being displaced from their homes, people sought refuge in makeshift shelters, and in some cases, schools.

In response to these conditions, Bangladesh has initiated a National Plan of Action and National Climate Change Strategy. The programs have begun a process of dredging rivers, raising levees and pumping water to compensate for increased flood conditions. The programs have also focused on creating early warning systems and have built over 2,500 concrete storm shelters. Almost 6,000 km of embankments have been constructed in efforts to combat heightened flood conditions. Additionally, 200 flood shelters have been built as well as almost 5,000 km of drainage channels meant to redirect the flow of floods.

These measures have made a significant impact on short term disaster safety. In 1970, before any sort of emergency response infrastructure, Cyclone Bhola killed an estimated 550,000 Bangladeshis. This stands in comparison to 200 casualties during Cyclone Aila in 2009. While the latter was still a disaster of immense proportions, the disaster preparedness and response measures were clearly evident and effective in terms of saving lives.

In 2013, emergency measures were once again tested when tropical storm Mahasen broke Bangladeshi shores. An estimated one million people from 13 coastal districts were evacuated north to shelters and fortified locations. This was accomplished through a procedure of government alerts, notifications and by collaboration of thousands of volunteers.

A statement by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs read, “While tropical storm Mahasen reached the coastline of Bangladesh on Thursday weaker than anticipated, the preparedness work undertaken by the Government and humanitarian partners saved countless lives.” This provides further evidence that the disaster mitigation protocols have been effective.

However, being a developing nation in an increasingly dangerous climate, Bangladesh is still relying upon developed countries and NGOs to jointly make changes in both emissions standards and practices. Acute response tactics can certainly provide temporary solutions for saving lives and crops, but measures with a long term focus are necessary for a solution to a much greater global issue.

Frasier Petersen

Sources: BBC, New York Times, United Nations Environmental Programme, Science Direct
Photo: Oxfam

poverty alleviation in dhaka
Bangladesh is a densely populated country in south-central Asia that encompasses a predominantly Muslim population. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh and is characterized by not only a dense population, but also social and economic diversity. It is one of the most industrialized cities in Bangladesh, with major industries specialized in leather goods, ceramics and electronic products.

Bangladesh is in a position to reach its Millennium Development Goals; however, it remains a low-income country with substantial inequality, deprivation and poverty. With over 45 million people in Bangladesh, approximately one third of the population lives below the poverty line with a majority living in extreme poverty. Poverty in rural areas is more severe, with 36 percent of the population in poverty whereas the urban centers are estimated at 28 percent. Plagued with an inadequate diet and massive food shortages, over half of the rural children are chronically malnourished and 14 percent suffer from acute malnutrition.

A large source of this poverty is due to a lack of economic opportunity and a reliance on farming. Agriculture accounts for less than 20 percent of the GDP; however, the farm sector is the lifeline of over 40 percent of the labor force. Due to urbanization and industrialization, the amount and availability of farmland is decreasing, and the land itself is less cultivable. A lack of technology and access to open bodies of water has affected the fisheries of Bangladesh as well.

A large source of poverty in Bangladesh has accumulated by overpopulation and climate change. Population density has placed significant pressure on the country’s natural resources, yet the urban and rural industries are unable to provide jobs for all Bangladeshi people; many citizens have been forced to seek work abroad. The impact of climate change has increased Bangladesh’s vulnerability, for it is one of the most flood-prone countries in the world. Severe flooding causes detrimental damage to crops, property and livelihoods. Monsoon floods, cyclones and storms significantly impact the rural poor, for their housing is less adequate than the urban centers, and the re-building process is longer, harder and increasingly difficult.

The World Bank released a poverty assessment of Bangladesh studying from 2000-2010 in June of 2013, and concluded with some striking results. The conclusion stated that the development gap ought to be addressed between the East and the West through increasing the economic opportunities for those in both regions. While Dhaka and several other eastern divisions have experienced growth, their Western counterparts have remained primarily stagnant and destitute. The growth of Bangladesh is occurring in an uneven fashion, and the impact of remittances, inadequate electricity, roads and access to markets further contributes to the unequal distribution to goods and resources.

The Borgen Project offers a variety of methods to contribute to poverty alleviation, albeit allowing all people to contribute to poverty alleviation in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as well as any other region that necessitates global attention.

– Neti Gupta

Sources: Encyclopedia Brittanica, Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: MIT News Office