Rashi Rajbangshi comes from a fisherman’s family and used to work as a housemaid. Her father was near blind and hardly able to work. So Rashi and her two sisters would work as maids in various houses in Tangail. It has been 20 years since then and they have come a long way. Rashi’s husband would work as a carpenter in the upazila town and they were doing quite well. He passed away a couple of years ago, but that did not force Rashi’s children to work as domestic help like she had. They work for readymade garment factories.
Rashi Rajbangshi lives in Daptiar union of Nagarpur upazila in Tangail. This is adjacent to Manikganj. Before communications here were poor. The mighty Jamuna flows by this union and so it faces the problem of river erosion. The area also has innumerable canals. It used to be unimaginable that this area would ever have proper roads. The nearby areas of Bhadra and Dhuburia faced the same plight.
But gradually the road system changed things for the three unions. With proper roads, now it hardly takes two hours to come to Dhaka, and hardly an hour and a half to the district town Tangail. Previously it would take the entire day to reach the district town. And coming to Dhaka was equally difficult. Now quite a few roads and bridges have made commute easier. And due to the communication system, all sorts of income generating opportunities have been created. Like Rashi’s husband, many now commute to the town to work there. It is easy to take their agricultural products to the town. The non-agricultural sector in the villages is flourishing. There is an increased inflow of domestic and overseas remittance. Life has changed. There is even a demand for televisions and motorcycles here. The Daptiar bazaar has motorbike and TV sales outlets too.
After Bangladesh won independence through its Liberation War, its poverty was a topic of discussion and the US foreign affairs advisor Henry Kissinger wrote Bangladesh off as a basket case. It was as if Bangladesh would be forever dependent on aid and assistance. It is true that Bangladesh had been steeped in poverty at the time, with 90 per cent of the people being poor in 1972. In 2018, the rate of extreme poverty plummeted to 11 per cent.
From the start of the nineties, the government began paying attention to rural road communication. This took services to the remote areas of the country, particularly to women. It also gave impetus to social development programme campaigns. The government’s Food for Work programme managed to take the children of poor families to school. All this happened after 1990. Stipends for girls saw the increase in female enrollment in schools. In fact, this stipend initiative is seen globally as a pioneering programme.
Analysts say that Bangladesh also leads in the utilisation of NGOs as vehicles of social development. The NGOs provide services as well as mobilise public awareness. Oral saline is an example. The rapid spread of the microcredit initiative also has significant contribution. It has facilitated the social communication and mobility of the rural women. Most importantly, it has put money in women’s hands. They have become micro-entrepreneurs. This had led to women’s empowerment and their contribution to the economy.
Then there is the contribution of the readymade garment sector. This labour-intensive industry has provided massive employment, of which a large percentage is women. The garment industry has pulled many out of the grips of poverty.
Then the unprecedented increase in the production of rice, vegetables, fruit and fish has also contributed to the alleviation of poverty, according to economists.
Mobile phones and mobile banking have also opened up new areas of development.
Unity amid disparity
Analysts feel that all governments have more or less paid attention to these sectors. Even though there is no love lost between the political parties of the country, they share similarities in such issues. The 1970 devastating cyclone and the 1975 famine served to create a consensus about alleviating poverty.
Another factor has played a significant role in alleviating poverty and that is overseas remittance. Towards the end of the seventies, labour migration to the Middle East began and now Bangladesh is one of the top grossing countries in overseas remittance. This remittance has put money into the hands of the rural people. It has developed the non-agricultural and service sector in the rural areas.
Professor of economics at Dhaka University and executive director of the research institute SANEM, Selim Raihan, told Prothom Alo that there has been huge success in poverty alleviation. But the Covid outbreak has had a serious impact on that. Poverty has increased again. He recommends that a new driving force be devised. Attention must be paid to modernising agriculture, diversifying exports, increasing foreign investment and employment.
Bangladesh did well in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. However, a study of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) said that the speed at which Bangladesh had been advancing prior to the pandemic, it could have easily achieved the SDG goal of eliminating poverty by 2030. However, there is now likelihood that this will not be achieved.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir