WHEN the first poverty survey was carried out in 1973-74, more than 70 per cent in the population of Bangladesh were seen as hard pressed to obtain two square meals per day. In 1991-92, the percentage of such people came down to 58.8 per cent, according to official estimates, and further down to 49.8 per cent in 1999-2000. The last conducted survey of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mentioned that the percentage of people under the poverty line in Bangladesh had come down to 40 per cent. The UNDP report was quoted in several prestigious foreign newspapers as indicative of greater success in poverty alleviation in Bangladesh during the last decade when neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan are well behind Bangladesh in this respect.
Notwithstanding the optimism expressed in the UNDP report, it is obvious that substantial poverty alleviation remains still a distant target in the context of Bangladesh. Forty per cent of the population persisting in the throes of poverty in a population of over 130 million is a huge figure. Besides, the outcome of the poverty surveys cannot be relied on so completely because the same can mask many unrecognised developments. The surveys may not have taken into account the number of those who fail to sustain in their existence above the poverty line due to all kinds of adversities that afflict their lives including crop failure, flood, cyclones, river erosion, etc. These factors and more make accurate poverty estimation a truly formidable exercise in this country. Thus, there is no room for relaxation from a thinking that anti-poverty measures are making a major impact. The road to poverty alleviation remains long and hard and policy-makers need to apply themselves with even greater dedication to make a notable dent in the poverty situation.
According to credible assessments of the country's reputed economists, the fruits of economic growth have been monopolised by a small section of the population and even the trickle down theory has not worked so much in the case of Bangladesh. Wealth concentration in a few hands, lack of distributive justice in economic policies and corruption have clearly frustrated the desire to relieve a much bigger number in the population of the pains of poverty. Therefore, policy-makers will have to address these issues effectively and at the fastest to make a meaningful headway against poverty.
Improvement of the overall investment climate, extensive introduction of crop insurance, legal barriers to prevent sale of lands and other assets at gross undervalue during times of financial hardships faced by the poor, improved marketing mechanisms to help primary producers to get better value for their produce, ensuring the receipt of official procurement prices of food grains and other cash crops by farmers, much increased availability of institutional credits without corruption among the rural poor at adequately reduced rates of interest, etc., will go a long way towards sustainable reduction of poverty.
S A Alam