Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Govt attaches higher priority on alleviating rural poverty; Mannan

Govt attaches higher priority on alleviating rural poverty; Mannan

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Planning Minister MA Mannan today said that the government attaches utmost priority on addressing poverty especially  alleviating rural poverty through giving various policy supports and budgetary allocations.

"We're working to this end sincerely," he said.

The planning minister said this while addressing the launching of a report titled “Extreme Poverty: The Challenges of Inclusion in Bangladesh” as the chief guest held at the NEC Conference Room in the city’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar area.

This is a study of the General Economics Division (GED) of the Planning Commission.

State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam spoke on the occasion as the special guest while executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, Director General of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Dr Binayek Sen and  Development Director, Foreign, Commonwealth, Development Office (FCDO), Bangladesh Judith Herbertson spoke as distinguish panelists.

Planning Commission member Nasima Begum, who is also in charge of the GED, chaired the Programme.

Authors of the report Zulfiqar Ali, Badrun Nessa Ahmed of BIDS and Mathilde Maitrot, Joe Devine and Geof Wood of the University of Bath, UK made a power-point presentation on the various aspects of the report.

Referring to the pledge of ensuring "Economic Emancipation" as earlier made by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Mannan said the country has advanced a lot to this end, but still there is a long way to go.

He opined that if wider access to resources could be made available by the mass people, then it could have an impact on poverty reduction.

The planning minister, however, noted that poverty is much more visible in Bangladesh compared to that of countries like England, Norway and Finland.

Shamsul Alam said that the development programmes of the government try to be much more poverty reduction friendly as the current 8th Five Year Plan attached highest importance on poverty reduction.

Reiterating the government's target to reduce extreme poverty rate at zero level by 2030 or keeping the poverty rate at less than 3 percent by 2041, Alam said that they are emphasizing much more investment at the rural level to minimize the  gap of urban and rural areas.

Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman stressed the need for prioritizing poverty alleviation friendly public investment to bolster the government's drive to further alleviate poverty in the country despite the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Only through raising mass awareness, poverty will not go away, rather we'll need money........So, we need to prioritize poverty alleviation friendly public investment," said the country's eminent economist.

Noting that the rural Bangladesh has transformed beyond the imagination, Zillur said that the government should support more the extreme poor through various social protection measures.

Director General of BIDS Dr Binayak Sen said that the COVID-19 pandemic has created some hick-ups down the poverty line.

He stressed the need for boosting urban Primary healthcare infrastructures adding that Bangladesh is doing much better in attaining SDGs compared to other countries.

Replying to a question, Dr Binayak said that following the first wave of the pandemic, the income of common people was affected, but around 80 percent of the income was recovered by December 2020.

He also hoped that the data on the latest poverty rate would be made available once the BBS publishes its rapid poverty survey.

Judith Herbertson, representing FCDO, a department of U.K., said that Bangladesh has made a fantastic job of reducing poverty in recent decades.

"I am optimistic about Bangladesh providing highly innovative solutions for many of the challenges," she said adding that other countries have much more to learn from Bangladesh.

The report showed that Kurigram has the highest level of extreme poverty with 53.9 percent while Narayanganj has the lowest zero percent.

The key messages of the report are extreme poverty is distinct from moderate poverty not only with respect to the poverty gap and sensitivity to growth, but also in terms of overlap with marginalized groups.

The key findings also include Income inequality is loosely correlated with the incidence of extreme poverty, but horizontal and spatial inequalities are strong.

Distribution of poverty changes when multi-dimensional poverty is considered while extreme poverty has poor asset base, limited access to services and institutions and volatile livelihoods.

The extreme poor represented about 10 percent of the population as of pre-COVID period, and has risen since due to COVID-19. Thus, about 17 million people are below the lower poverty line.

In Bangladesh, as in most developing countries, poverty is unequally distributed geographically, with the eastern districts generally considered better off than those in the North and West of the country when per capita income distribution is measured, due to proximity to stronger economic growth.

But, that picture changes when a multi-dimensional poverty index (such as education, literacy, malnutrition, child stunting) is used, alongside “intersectionality” with gender and ethnicity. 

Concentrations of extreme poverty then shift more to the North, North-West, South-West and Southern parts of the country. But, even then regional generalizations are difficult, with extreme poverty nested within some upazilas of otherwise more successful districts-poverty pockets, in other words. 

The study identifies these pockets, and argues that policy attention should be focused upon them.

The study also finds that a focus just upon income and graduation from extreme poverty is misplaced, and should shifts towards thinking more about access to public services and economic opportunities, and towards the longer term resilience of a family.

The two main policy conclusions are a blended focus upon poverty pockets, engaging with multi-dimensional issues by addressing improved and secure access to key welfare services (especially access to health and education) and enabling better links to mainstream economic opportunities, rather than just providing income support via social protection.

Besides, a social worker, community service approach at the household level, managed through professional supervision to mediate service provisions and overcome access barriers.