The Centre on Integrated Rural Development for the Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) held in the recent past a regional policy dialogue in Dhaka where rural development and poverty alleviation were the main issues of discussion.
The strategies for poverty alleviation and development discussed at that CIRDAP-sponsored seminar have high relevance for Bangladesh where more than 80 per cent of its people have a rural existence and the majority of them remain below the poverty line. Besides, the rural areas of the country are also the least developed in sharp contrast to the urban areas. Thus, there is a powerful case indeed to take far greater developmental initiatives in the rural areas and it is in this sphere that the government has perhaps the most important role to play.
In respect of poverty alleviation activities, government here has a participatory role through its own micro-credit giving organisation as well as other programmes designed to mitigate the sufferings from extreme poverty. The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are also doing a reasonable job in extending micro-credits and carrying out of multi-faceted programmes to address the problems of poverty.
But, as pointed out, the government can do a great deal more to accelerate developmental activities in the rural areas. For this purpose, it should be willing to channel far greater resources into the rural areas to expressly build supporting infrastructures for the rural economy. The budget in the present year also indicated a move to shift resources to rural areas. But worries were also expressed about how far the same would be truly spent for the uplift of the rural economy. There are reasons to fear that the same could be wasted on satisfying political activists and other cronies of the incumbents in power than going into actual projects like road building, training programmes, irrigation projects, new agricultural products with an export dimension, etc., that only can justify the greater spending in the rural areas.
The government must not only be resolved to build infrastructures in the rural areas, it should also decide to create a strong local government system also to that end. As it is, there is hardly any good local governance at the grass roots level from the indecisiveness of the government itself about what model of local government to select finally that would ensure its political influence in the rural areas.
The pressing need is to overcome this indecisiveness at the fastest in a fair and open-minded manner and, more significantly, to empower and enable the local bodies to receive and spend much greater funds with a vision to help the real progress of the rural economy.
Mustafa Jasim Ahmed