Pull northern districts out of poverty

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Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal in his budget speech mentioned bringing the elderly, people with disabilities, widows and the destitute of 100 poverty stricken areas under a social safety net. The budget allocated additional funds to this end as well. There are 492 upazilas in the country. So, around one fifth of them getting such aid is a great initiative.

But we need to keep in mind that only elderly, widows and destitute do not live in those areas. There are many unemployed youth and the government need to think about them, too. Most of them had job in or outside their own areas prior to the coronavirus crisis.

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But now they are out of work. According to a series of reports on Kurigram published in Prothom Alo, most of the people in the district are living a miserable life, even failing to manage one square meal a day. Before the coronavirus crisis, poverty rate in the whole country was 20-22 per cent, but in Kurigram it was 71 per cent.

It has gone further up with the crisis deepening every single day. The people who earned their living by doing small jobs in the area do not have that option either. The government did send Tk 2,500 each to the poor, but that does not solve the problem. How long can they live on that meager amount?

Some of these people narrated their sad tales to the Prothom Alo correspondents and they beggar description. Even in such a grave crisis, some local representatives and their accomplices are making fake lists and looting relief goods.

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The report states that Kurigram is the poorest district in the country. Thousands of others in the rest of the northern districts, the three districts in the hill tracts and the ones in the coastal belt also lost their jobs.

A BRAC survey says the income of as many as 95 per cent of the people has gone down in this period. Another survey says 65 per cent of the people in the coastal belt depend on the loans taken from the usurpers. This means the next generation may have to deal with this vicious circle, too. The dire situation of the coastal people has once again been laid bare by the cyclone Amphan.

We think only financial aid cannot drive away povery from this region. Special economic projects need to be undertaken in these areas. People should be helped to get back to their old professions, things they did before the coronavirus.

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The deputy commissioner of Kurigram has mentioned a plan to make some barren lands arable and employing some people there. To make that a reality, khas lands of the government can be leased to the poor so that they can make their own living.

The economists had long been advocating for the introduction of an agri-based industry in the northern districts. But the government policymakers were too complacent with making the region free off ‘monga’. They did not make sustainable projects a priority. Will this crisis open their eyes?

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