Rural poverty alleviation
Md. Mehedi Hassan
POVERTY has manifold expressions, many dimensions and various roots. According to this concept, poverty cannot be conceived as something reducible or summarily expressed in economic as well as socio-cultural terms. Generally, poverty is measured in terns of income below the minimum level which is indispensably required to meet ones basic needs.
A question is constantly asked why are some people always poor? Is it that they have chosen to remain poor because they are mentally, psychologically, intellectually and environmentally poor? From a general observation it is deduced that poverty is caused by the lack of exchange power in a market economy. Gainful employment is the principle challenge to the poor and the main focus of poverty alleviation.
Therefore, strategies for poverty alleviation should broadly encompass the redistribution and the creation of assets in favour of the poor. "Make poverty history" is the global call against poverty. Responding to this call all nations around the world have reaffirmed their commitment to poverty alleviation and redesigned their strategies to achieve this target within the shortest possible time. Bangladesh has fixed its target to reduce poverty by half within 2015.
It indicates that 50 per cent of the population, living below the poverty line will get an opportunity to improve their economic, health and environmental status within the next nine years. The time available for bringing about the big qualitative change is very short but the task ahead is stupendous. Now the question is: will our strategies work to achieve the goal of overcoming this massive challenge. At present 76.61 per cent of the population live in the rural areas of Bangladesh. It indicates that out of 140 million of population 107.2 million live in the rural areas. The periodic household income on expenditure survey, reflects a significant decline in rural poverty from 83 to 44 per cent while hard core poverty has reduced to around 20 per cent. It shows that about 47.1 million people are still living below the poverty line, of whom around 21.4 million are hard core and extremely poor, who have no capacity to have two square meals and earn a dollar in a day.
Some reasons for this dreadful incidence of poverty in rural areas, are: lack of substantial support from the government, lack of good governance to protect the rights of the poor and the distressed, inadequate employment opportunities, landlessness, inadequate and farm equipment, inferior human resources and absence of service facilities like electricity, gas, and water supply.
The absence of easy transport and communication facilities, lack of technical knowledge and inadequate institutional support, gender discrimination against women in the social development, in adequate banking facilities for rural infrastructure building, absence of power monitoring, accountability and transparency in utilisation of allocated resources and frequent occurrence of natural disasters have also contributed to causing poverty in the rural areas.
All these are also principal hindrances to rural poverty alleviation. But if we believe that where there is will there is a way, it is obviously possible to reduce poverty by half within 2015.
As poverty has many dimensions and different roots' the strategies for rural poverty alleviation should be multidimensional and involve simultaneous activities to obtain the targeted results.
Poverty alleviation by half within 2015 is quite possible without any massive investment by putting emphasis on the development of human resources. In fact, a big portion of our population living in rural areas -- whether underemployed or employed, lacks in skill and technical knowledge . Even they don't know how to run trade and work in small jobs in industries or produce high value crops in the country. For the absence of the necessary skills the capital available with them is never properly utilised. In the rural areas of Bangladesh, the probable sectors for development are: poultry, fisheries, floriculture, pisciculture, horticulture, and dairy farm, etc. which may generate massive enthusiasm in the rural populace and enable them to escape the stigma of being unemployed or underemployed.
The government should try to attract foreign and national investors to these sectors create rural employment.
They may also invite trainers from abroad to make our rural people skilled in the pertinent trades.
Different programmes can be taken up under a policy to create new settlements and new economic zones, various farms and nonfarming sectors and for improvement of infrastructure in different areas. Forestry, fisheries extension, support to ethnic minorities, provision for credit to marginal farmers, education and health care for the rural poor may also receive priority under this policy. India, Brazil, Vietnam and Maxico are the real examples of rural poverty alleviation through the process of augmented rural employment generation. In India, the national rural employment programme is being implemented with remarkable success in uplift of rural economy. This has promoted the Indian parliament to pass the "rural employment guarantee bill" 2005, which is the largest programme of it' type in terms of cost and coverage promising 100 days minimum wage employment to every rural household in 200 of Indian's 600 odd districts.
In view of the acute crisis of power and fuel, there could be massive investment on solar energy in rural areas. Solar energy will help promote backward linkage and agro-based industries in the rural areas. The allocation of Tk 1000 million in the budget for 2006-2007 for non-conventional energy development can be utilised in promoting the use of solar energy.
The development of rural areas are controlled by the ministry of local government and rural development. Different project for rural development are passed by this ministry and then the allocations distributed among different local bodies, like municipality, union parishads etc. Our local bodies are highly corrupt but the ministry is unconcerned about this issue.
In many respects, development of an area depends on a sound communication system. In spite of having various resources, only for lack of proper communication facilities our rural areas are impeded in achieving development. The farmers are deprived from the right prices of their products. For attaining the necessary change in this regard, the LGRD and communication ministries will have to be more concerned and transparent in implementing different infrastructure development projects, like bridges, culvert, roads, etc.
In regard to establishment of industries in an agro based economy, all the three basic factors, like volition, strength, and efficiency are inseparably related with capital. For augmenting the contribution of agriculture to national economy, and that of many other potential sectors-like handicrafts, buttock, the availability of essential capital has to be ensured. Sufficient number branches of banks need to be established in the rural areas. Adequate, easy and timely availability of loans can bring about the desired development in agriculture and many other sectors in the rural areas.
In many third world countries, the close relationship between gender equality and rural economic development has been proved.
The contribution of women in our rural areas are comparatively little than the men in the economic sphere. There are some identified sectors -- such as weaving, family poultry, raising goats, and production of handicrafts, where women may be encouraged with the help of micro-credit.