We know poverty is one of the major obstacles to a country’s overall development. A country is poor because its people are poor. Poor countries always depend on others for their survival. They have no way, but to live on the donations, grants and loans from the rich countries as well as international organisations. A country, dependent on others, has no sovereignty in the real sense. Poverty, thus, not only weakens or obstructs a country’s economic development, but may push the country to an unstable political situation. A number of disasters and political chaos have occurred in many parts of the world due to the consequences of poverty. In fact, a country can never hold its head high as a healthy and strong nation unless poverty is driven away totally from that country.
If we can establish a proper and just economy based state, it would increase the political peace and tolerance as well as create a healthy and prosperous situation in the economy. Each citizen of a country, whether lives in a rural or urban area, should equally be brought above the poverty line. High income disparity could never be favourable for a country’s economic growth or poverty alleviation. Overall development of a country will advance as faster as the income inequality existing among different geographical areas of that country is reduced. The economic policies of a country should be formulated in such a way that not a single poor is left behind from country’s economic activities.
It is observed that remittance receiving families are financially in a better position than others. Truly speaking, remittances not only strengthen income of the families, but play an important role in poverty alleviation that ultimately enhances country’s overall economic development. The families, living under poverty line, would be relieved of the pains of poverty if those families could be transformed into remittance receiving families. If we could work with proper planning, then the migrant workers and their remittances would be able to reduce country’s poverty much earlier than the estimated schedule. That would only be possible when necessary steps would be taken on reframing the existing migration process to achieve that goal.
Bangladesh is one of the top worker sending countries in the world. Though the country was liberated in December 1971 from Pakistan’s occupation, it started sending workers for employment abroad five years after. The number of our migrant workers has, so far, crossed eight millions. New workers are leaving Bangladesh everyday and also many are returning on completion of their work or for other reasons. However, in this way of coming and going, the number of our migrant workers is continuously increasing at the end. It is true that a Bangladeshi worker has to spend lakhs of taka for an employment abroad. For obvious reason, a member from a very poor family cannot afford or collect such an amount of money of his own. In addition, he seldom gets the chance to have a loan from any financial organisations. As a result, these poor people, whose poverty needs to be alleviated, are always neglected and ignored by all corners. They usually remain far behind from the migration process. But if they were given the chance for employment abroad, then those poor families could easily be brought above, at least, the extreme poverty line.
Undoubtedly, migration of workers is an important source to fuel the economic development of Bangladesh including poverty alleviation.
Remittances, sent by our nationals working abroad, have not only enhanced and strengthened the economy of Bangladesh, but provided economic solvency to each of the remittance receiving families. Bangladesh has 64 districts and rate of poverty varies from one district to another. Likewise, each district has a different number of migrant workers. However, the position of economic and social development of all 64 districts is desired to be very close for an ideal overall development of Bangladesh. The unequal emigration of workers from the districts is one of the sources of disparity in their economic growth. As a result, higher poverty rate than the national rate exists in many districts. If we give preference to transforming the poor families of the poorer districts into remittance receiving ones, then the economic disparities among districts could significantly be reduced. And ultimately, poverty could completely be alleviated from Bangladesh within a couple of years.
According to government statistics, 6,531,271 Bangladeshis went abroad to work during the last 12 years (2005-2016). Less than 10 workers per thousand people went abroad from 12 districts, namely Rangpur, Sherpur, Lalmonirhat, Dinajpur, Nilphamari, Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Rangamati, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Khagrachari and Bandarban. 10 to 30 workers per thousand persons went from Sirajganj, Satkhira, Khulna, Patuakhali, Natore, Bagerhat, Joypurhat, Naogaon, Rajshahi, Netrakona, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Sunamganj, Jamalpur, Jessore, Gopalganj, Barguna, Pabna, Pirojpur, Chuadanga, Magura, Narail, Bogra, Cox’s Bazar and Jhenaidah. Between 30 to 75 workers per thousand people went abroad from Sylhet, Barisal, Kushtia, Kishoreganj, Chapainawabganj, Rajbari, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Bhola, Habiganj, Jhalokathi, Narsingdi, Faridpur, Madaripur, Noakhali, Moulvibazar, Shariatpur, Meherpur and Chittagong. More than 75 workers per thousand went from 8 districts, such as Comilla, Chandpur, Feni, Brahmanbaria, Tangail, Munshiganj, Lakshmipur and Manikganj. The least number of workers went from Panchagarh (3 workers per thousand) and Lalmonirhat (4 workers per thousand). On the contrary, the highest number of workers went from Munshiganj (122 per thousand) and Comilla (117 per thousand).
According to 2010 statistics of Bangladesh government, districts like Rangpur, Sherpur, Gaibandha and Kurigram have more than 25% poverty rate and less than 10 migrant workers per thousand people. Dinajpur, Khulna, Bandarban, Gopalganj, Sunamganj, Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Sirajganj, Magura, Satkhira, Bagerhat and Natore, the districts with poverty rate between 20%-25%, have 10 to 30 migrant workers per thousand people. More than 50 workers per thousand people went for employment abroad from Feni, Brahmanbaria, Munshiganj, Manikganj, Comilla, Faridpur, Madaripur, Noakhali, Moulvibazar, Tangail, Lakshmipur, Narsingdi, Meherpur and Chittagong and poverty rate in those districts is below 20%.
The poverty rates mentioned above will differ now as the rates have significantly been changed over last 6 years. The latest (2016 or 2017) statistics of our district-wise poverty rates were not available while writing this. However, I believe that necessary statistics will be at hand while making any decision on this issue, if the authority desires so. Whatever the statistics we will use for analytical purpose, we will get similar indications. More specifically I would like to mention that districts having more migrant workers are financially in better position than lesser workers sending districts. That means, poverty rate in general is comparatively higher in those districts that have lesser migrant workers. The exception of this concept is observed in Dhaka and Chittagong districts due to their huge economic activities. These two districts and few other districts (having supportive economic environment) have lesser poverty rate though they have lesser migrant workers.
Therefore, the basic issue is to ensure the involvement of the people under poverty in the mainstream of our economy. For that, appropriate steps should urgently be taken to formulate necessary rules, regulations and laws in this regard. In fact, the government should play the principal role in ensuring all of these. We know that a person would be in good health if all parts of his body are healthy. Similarly, the overall development of Bangladesh depends on the economic situation existing in each family or area. If the economically backward areas cannot be lifted up, then the whole country would be affected. The poor would remain poor as long as they are not brought into the mainstream of the economy. There is no alternative to the proposition that the workers from backward districts would be given priority for employment abroad. To reduce poverty at a faster rate, it might be an important and right decision if workers from poorer districts are given preference for employment abroad, at least for next few years.
We know that elimination of poverty from the world is the foremost issue among the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) unanimously approved in the UN. Therefore, the UN has suggested its member states to make sustainable employment and increase social equality through the process of participatory economic growth. To achieve SDGs within the prescribed time, the present Bangladesh government has relentlessly been working in every step of its economic and social sectors. In principle, the thrust is there, but the implementation systems as well as the outcomes might require strict monitoring. We don’t want to be disappointed. The people of Bangladesh, like their Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, wish to see a poverty-free Bangladesh. It is my strong conviction that the present leadership of Bangladesh would easily achieve the first goal (poverty alleviation) of SDGs by giving preference to the people of the poorer districts for employment abroad in addition to other national and international approaches. If it happens, then this initiative might be an example to be followed by other worker sending countries of the world.
The writer is former Ambassador and