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Poverty alleviation needs special focus: Study

Extreme poverty linked to multi-dimensional factors, experts say

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 1 October, 2021 12:00 AM
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A new study calls for taking into account multi-dimensional aspects of extreme poverty, such as access to education and healthcare alongside income equality to address the problem in a sustainable manner.

In Bangladesh, the extreme poverty situation in eastern districts seems to be better than that of northern and western parts in terms of per capita income for their proximity to stronger economic growth.

But the distribution of extreme poverty shifts more to the north, north-west, south-west and southern parts of the country, if multi-dimensional poverty indices are considered, finds the study of General Economics Division (GED). 

It has taken into account multi-dimensional poverty indices like education, literacy, malnutrition, child stunting alongside intersectionality with gender and ethnicity.

The study styled: ‘Extreme Poverty: The Challenges of Inclusion in Bangladesh’ jointly conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and the University of BATH, UK was unveiled at a seminar at the city’s NEC auditorium on Thursday.

“A focus just upon income and graduation from extreme poverty is misplaced and should shift towards thinking more about access to public services and economic opportunities, and towards the longer-term resilience of a family,” said Zulfiqar Ali, BIDS researcher and co-author of the report.

As of the pre-Covid-19 period, about 17 million people are below the lower poverty line in the country which was nearly 10 per cent of its population.

The study, however, could not provide the exact figure of the extreme poor after the pandemic onslaught although it admitted to a rise in extreme poverty rate amid the global crisis moment. 

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

Despite the change in the poverty picture, regional generalization is difficult as extreme poverty concentrate in some poverty pockets, which the report said should need special focus on poverty reduction initiatives.

The study finds that family livelihood fluctuates over time due to exploitation, marginalization and discrimination by others, which inhibit access to needed external support like health and education, combined with their existing vulnerabilities and capabilities such as morbidity, labour market exclusion from decent work, and denial of social protection.

The report says the experience and explanations of extreme poverty are more micro-specific and thus idiosyncratic than for poverty as a whole; and that such families face more insecurity and uncertainty which undermines their ability to look after themselves and invest in their own and their children’s future. 

A blended focus on poverty pockets, engaging with multi-dimensional issues by addressing improved and secure access to key welfare services, especially health and education, and enabling better links to mainstream economic opportunities rather than just providing income support via social protection, the study suggested.

The report suggested focusing on resilience rather than graduation with a proposal for creating a social worker cadre responsible for supporting extremely poor families.  Planning Minister MA Mannan joined the programme as the chief guest, while State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam was the special guest.

Social and psychological problems of the extreme poor should also be taken into consideration to properly address the problem, said Judith Herbertson, Development Director of FCDO Bangladesh.

She added that Bangladesh has a bright future ahead, but it needs to overcome the challenges. 

BIDS Director-General Dr Binayak thinks that extreme poverty is going to be a thing of the past for the country as its abject poverty level is likely to be zero or minus by 2030.

He said Bangladesh is doing much better in implementing SDG-1 dealing with extreme poverty compared to many other countries of the world.

In reply to a question, Binayak said despite an increase in poverty after the first wave of coronavirus, the rate returned to the 2016 level of 25 per cent in 2021 as the country saw 80 per cent economic recovery by December 2020.

Former adviser to caretaker government 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 prioritise poverty alleviation friendly public investment," he pointed out. He said poverty should be looked at in terms of its correlates; not the poverty line.

Planning Minister MA Mannan said that the government attaches the highest priority to poverty alleviation, especially rural poverty, through giving various policy supports and budgetary allocations. "We're working to this end sincerely," he said. If wider access to resources could be made available for the mass people, then it could have an impact on poverty reduction, according to Mannan.

State Minister for Planning Dr 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 the highest importance on poverty reduction.

Reiterating the government's target to reduce the extreme poverty rate at zero level by 2030 or keeping the poverty rate at less than 3 per cent by 2041, Alam said.