Points to Ponder
POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN BANGLADESH AND PROBABLE COOPERATION FROM JAPAN
Momtazuddin Bhuiyan
 
1. PRESENT SCENARIO:

Bangladesh is a poor country with a population of about 140 mil crammed into a small area of 55,000 sq. miles. It is an LLDC country with per capita income of US$ 444 (as per recent BRAC data). About half the population is landless and lives with less than one US dollar per day.

Literacy rate of the country is less than 60%, though the enrollment in the primary school is increasing. Women empowerment is on the rise and enrollment of women in the secondary and higher secondary schools has improved considerably.

“Health service for all” is still a far cry. Although the Govt. health complexes in the Upazilla and in some cases in the Union are noteworthy in a poor country like Bangladesh and also the budget in the health sector is satisfactory but due to lack of good governance, people are not getting the health services. But it can be mentioned that child mortality rate has considerably improved and life span has increased considerably.

Unemployment is acute, but due to the micro-credit facilities by NGOs, many poor rural people are getting some benefit of employment generation.

2. FIVE PILLARS TO SUSTAIN BANGLADESH:

It can be said that Bangladesh is being sustained on the five main pillars without which sustainability of the country would have been doubtful.

I think the five main pillars for sustainability of the country are:

(A) The Poor Farmers:

The poor farmers of the country are working relentlessly to grow rice, vegetables, fruits etc. Most of the farmers are in financial crisis to arrange seeds, fertilizers and irrigation cost. But they somehow manage to cultivate their meager land and supply rice, vegetables, potatoes, pulses, onions etc. at a very cheap price. The main reasons of the fact that they can supply them so cheap are (a) the farmers do not consider the wage of their own labour and (b) also they do not consider the rent of their own land. If they would have considered these factors, the price of rice and other agriculture products would have cost at least double. Most of our city people do not think over these facts, but we should seriously consider these facts and should give them due price for their products.

(B) Poor Wage-Earners:

From Bangladesh a lot of wage-earners are going abroad. Most of the wage-earners are very poor and they go abroad selling a portion of their land property. These are the people who send the valuable foreign exchange which the country needs very badly. The average remittance of the wage-earners per year is U$ 4 billion which is a great benefit for the country to meet its huge import bill. It has to be mentioned here that the wage-earners have to pay a minimum of Tk. 2.5 lac to a maximum of Tk. 8.0 lac to the agents who arrange the employment abroad and in fact the agents are the main beneficiaries. The poor wage-earners are sometimes unable to get back their investment even after 3 to 5 years of ill-paid job abroad. This fact has been found from many wage-earners in the Middle Eastern countries where their salaries are sometimes as low as Tk. 5000/- per month and occasionally this salary is also irregular.

It has to be mentioned here that many upper society wage-earners of Bangladesh are earning a lot money in foreign countries, but most of them do not send any money to Bangladesh, moreover, they want to take money from their parents for better living abroad or to buy houses / apartments there. So, we should consider seriously who are really helping this country to survive.

(C) Low-paid Garment Workers:

The garment workers (90% of which are females) are working very hard (may be about 12 hours / day) and getting a poor salary of about Tk. 15,000/- to Tk. 16,000/- per month (about US$ 20 to US$ 25). The reason of their poor salary is that most of them have little school education and that there is no sufficient employment scope in the country so that they can get better salary elsewhere.

Due to mainly their hard work, the country is getting export earning of about US$ 6.5 billion annually. This is the 73% of the country's export earning. It can be noted here that Bangladesh has now become one of the five biggest garment exporters in the world and the garment quality has so much improved that Bangladeshi garments have been included among most of the best-brands of the world.

Due to the expansion of garment industry in Bangladesh, the scope of employment of women has increased tremendously. At present about 1.8 million women are working in the garment industry of the country. The employment in the garment sector has considerably empowered the women of Bangladesh and there has been a considerable social change in the country.

(D) Dedicated Businessmen and Entrepreneurs:

There are many dedicated businessmen and entrepreneurs, not only in the fields of garments but also in pharmaceuticals, ceramics, leather, tea etc. These businessmen / entrepreneurs are courageously expanding their business in spite of hundreds of odds they face very often and they are the people who are creating enormous scope of employments in the acute employment-hungry Bangladesh.

We should express our gratitude and show respect to these courageous entrepreneurs who are contributing in the prosperity of the country conquering hundreds of obstacles. We should know that they are the people to create employment to the millions of youths every year. Without their employment opportunities, the country would have been in acute chaos and without their foreign exchange earning, the country world have been in acute foreign exchange crises.

It has to be mentioned here that there are many other small entrepreneurs, such as, manufacturers of machine tools and makers of small machines locally, owners of printing presses / photo copiers and manufacturers of consumer items, such as, biscuits, bread and other food items. They are creating a lot of employment opportunities. Without their employment generation, the country would have been in more acute unemployment.

In the country side there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are creating a lot of employment in fish culture, poultry, beef fattening, dairy, goat farming, poultry, vegetable cultivation, fruit cultivation, flower cultivation etc. In fact, they are the main employment generators in the rural Bangladesh.

(E) NGO’s Micro-credit and Poverty Alleviation Activities:

It is a fact that NGOs are playing a very vital role for the development of Bangladesh. NGOs have shown a great success in micro-credit and poverty alleviation in the country.

I think there are two main reasons for the success of NGOs. Number 1 reason is the innovative ideas, like world-acclaimed innovation of the concept and expansion of micro-credit by Dr. Mohammad Yunus. Number 2 reason is the lack of good governance by the Govt. of Bangladesh and thereby a huge vacuum has been created in the fields of poverty alleviation and social welfare work. Therefore, a large number of NGOs both foreign and local have come up after the liberation of Bangladesh. Poverty was so acute after liberation that Henry Kissinger, the then Secretary of State of USA termed Bangladesh as a "bottomless basket ".

To describe the success of NGO's micro-credit in Bangladesh, a local daily newspaper narrated that about 75 thousand crore Taka is being utilized in micro-credit here and the rural poor people, mainly women are getting the benefit. As a result, many thatched houses in the rural area have been converted into tin-shed nice looking houses. But the fact remains that more than 40% of the people are still illiterate and 6 crore people are still living under less than one US dollar a day. So, NGOs still have to go a long way to reach our cherished goal of making a “Poverty-free, disease free, happy Bangladesh with 100% literacy."

Observation: It has been observed that out of 5 pillars, first 3 pillars are poor people but dedicated to develop themselves and remaining 2 pillars are rich people but dedicated to help the poor. We expect that all our citizens should come forward to help and cooperate with first 3 pillars for the betterment of our country.

3. EMPLOYMENT GENERATION FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION:
For poverty alleviation the following 3 factors are very important:-

(A) Human Resource Development:

(a) Illiteracy eradication is a must for human resource development. If a person becomes literate his confidence grows and efficiency increases many folds. I have suggested easy Bengali for rapid illiteracy eradication. Easy Bengali is a simplified form of Bengali language. The main aim is to literate people quickly with easy method after which anybody can learn conventional language without any trouble. In this modern age of information technology and computers, if our people can be 100% literate (say up to 35 to 40 years old) within 5~6 years, we can cope with the world competition. But if we have to wait for 10 to 30 years (we cannot afford to lose time) for attaining literacy, we will lose 10 to 30 years to reach our goal of making a “prosperous Bangladesh” in this highly competitive world.

(b) After illiteracy eradication we have to give our people vocational training to make them suitable for the practical work.

A lot of wage earners, skilled and unskilled are going abroad every year. These people can be trained to make them much more suitable and efficient to work abroad by which foreign exchange earning can be increased considerably.

Here it can be mentioned that there is a good opportunity for Bangladeshi nurses and sailors to get jobs in many developed countries. To achieve this goal we have to establish high quality nursing institutes to produce quality nurses to serve abroad and also world-class marine training academies for sailors’ training to produce quality sailors suitable to work anywhere in the world.

(c) Higher Education: Higher education is a must for the development of any country. As the quality of our education has deteriorated considerably, we have to give special emphasis to improve the quality of education to make more people suitable for higher education for the development of Bangladesh.

(B) Infrastructure Development:

Infrastructure development is a pre-requisite for the development of any country. Bangladesh has achieved some success in making roads and bridges but lags far behind in giving electricity supply to the general mass and also lags in meeting the huge demand of telephones. Although due to development of private companies for giving services of mobile telephones, still the services can not reach the general mass in rural areas due to lack of electricity.

It is absolutely necessary to develop many more water-ways which is very much possible in riverine Bangladesh in order to make transportation cost of goods much cheaper (say, about 1/5 compared to truck). In a populous country like Bangladesh development of railway like Japan is extremely important. Communication by railway for general mass is not only much cheaper but also much safer, much more timely and much more convenient and comfortable.

(C) Good Governance:

Good governance is so much important that we have found from ancient time that a country under a king or emperor with good governance prospered rapidly, whereas a country with bad governance lagged far behind. Good governance is a pre-requisite for any kind of development of a country.

The following 3 factors are very important for Good Governance:

(a) Law and Order:

Maintenance of law and order of a country is desired by any citizen. Every citizen in the country wants to get security for life & property which is a very basic right of a person. If the Govt. fails to give such security, it has no right to be in power. This is the law of nature from ancient time.

(b) Eradication of Corruption:

Living a just and honest life is the motto of any human being. To do corruption means to deprive other’s right which is a great crime in any religion.

If the higher officials, specially the head, get corrupted, then the lower officials get corrupted easily. It is well known that a fish starts getting rotten from its “head”, so is the case of a society i.e. if the head in corrupted, others get corrupted. So, people must choose a just and honest “head” in order to achieve an honest society.

(c) Political Harmony:

Political harmony is essential for the rapid development of any society. All of our citizens should take all kinds of measures that political harmony prevails in the country. It is very unfortunate that we cannot find political harmony in our country. Citizens group should come forward to achieve political harmony in order to attain rapid development of Bangladesh.

If good governance can be achieved in Bangladesh in respect of the said 3 factors, then GDP will grow at double digits and there is no doubt that more and more investment, both local and foreign will take place rapidly. Because we have to note that money and technology all over the world are in excess and they flow in the countries where security and profit are guaranteed.

4. RURAL DEVELOPMENT BY GOOD AGRO-PLANNING:

Good agro-planning is necessary for the rural development of a country. Planning should be made so that irrigation can be done properly, high-yielding seeds, fertilizer and financial assistance can reach the farmers without any trouble. Moreover, farmers should be encouraged for fish culture, poultry, dairy, beef fattening, vegetable and fruit cultivation giving them ample facilities to carry on these jobs.

5. COOPERATION WE SOLICIT FROM JAPAN:

Japan being our biggest donor country is giving support in various sectors namely,

(A) Education & Training: Japan is providing about 150 scholarships to the Bangladeshi students for higher studies in Japan. JICA is offering training in Japan to a large number of Govt. officials for attaining higher capability in their relative jobs.

Besides, Japan is offering financial help in making school buildings for the expansion of education in Bangladesh.

(B) Health: Japan is providing financial assistance in making hospitals and also imparting technical assistance in hospital management in Bangladesh, Maternal and Child Health Training Institute in Azimpur is a successful example. Besides, Japan has made a modern hospital in Narayangonj.

Japan has also constructed a large number of water tanks to supply pure drinking water to the people of Bangladesh.

(C) Roads & Bridges: Japan’s help in this sector is commendable. Shitalakkya Bridge, Meghna Bridge, Meghna-Gumati Bridge, Rupsha Bridge and a considerable contribution in Jamuna Bridge are bright examples.

(D) Disaster Management: Japan has constructed a large number of cyclone shelters and embankment in the coastal area of Bangladesh. Whenever there is any disaster in Bangladesh, Japan comes forward quickly to render help.

(E) Rural Development by Agro-planning: JICA is providing a number of experts and young volunteers for the rural development of Bangladesh. Prof. Kaida is one of many important JICA experts engaged in the rural development.

(F) Besides, Japan is providing financial assistance through JBIC in various infrastructure development in power sector and other necessary fields.

(G) Help Solicited in other Sectors: Bangladesh lags behind in flood control, water-ways development, electricity service, telephone service and railway development. As Japan is extremely successful in these fields, we solicit Japan’s cooperation in these vital sectors for the development and poverty alleviation of our country.

Besides, Bangladesh has very little experience in managing the traffic congestion of mega cities like Dhaka. Japan having vast experiences in this field, can help Bangladesh to tackle the traffic congestion of Dhaka-city by introducing two or three modes of transport system, such as, rails, subways, water-ways etc. instead of using only roads.

Proposal: Japan is not only our biggest Donor country, but also it should be our biggest development partner. To materialize this aim, we Bangladeshis should take initiative. We should make the “Look East Policy“ like Malaysia and make a thorough planning regarding what we want to request Japan to do for us for the mutual benefit of both the countries .

After the liberation Japan was the country to help Bangladesh in a big way both financially and technically. It was a country which was a “friend in need “. So, we can rely on Japan and we should strengthen our relation with Japan looking after each other’s interest in true sense.

6. CONTRIBUTION OF JAPANESE NGOs IN BANGLADESH:

There are 3 Japanese NGOs, namely, OSICA International, Shapla Neer and International Angels Association which are actively working in Bangladesh. Out of these 3, OISCA International and Shapla Neer (previously Help Bangladesh) have started operation just after the liberation of Bangladesh.

OISCA is the abbreviation of “Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement”. It is engaged in imparting agricultural training to the young people to make them more capable in their fields of work. OISCA has established a large residential training centre in Savar in 1981 and has been giving training to a large number of youths for more than 25 years. Noticing the success of OISCA, Govt. of Bangladesh requested the Japanese Govt. to establish a training centre for women and accordingly a women training centre was established with the Japanese grant in the adjacent compound of OISCA and it is running successfully.

OISCA being the biggest and oldest Japanese NGO working in Bangladesh is keen in imparting training and modern technology in agriculture for income generation in rural Bangladesh and also technology for supplying pure drinking water for the rural people. Thus OISCA wants to play a vital role in poverty alleviation improving sustainability, environment and good governance among the rural people of Bangladesh.

Shapla Neer has been engaged in the social welfare activities, such as training the poor women in the rural areas to make them self sufficient. Many of the women have become self sufficient and are leading their lives nicely carrying out some income generating activities.

International Angels Association has established an orphanage and a training centre for vocational as well an agriculture training in Konabari, Gazipur. The Association is also providing scholarships to a large member of poor and meritorious students in Bangladesh. They established a few schools in various parts of Bangladesh the country.


7. FUTURE OF BANGLADESH IN THE EYE OF FOREIGN PUBLICATION:

Time Magazine in its recent publication has predicted a bright future for Bangladesh in spite of its many odds. Jeffrey Sachs, a famous writer has narrated similar better future for Bangladesh.

(A) JEFFREY SACHS:

In his famous book, named, “The End of Poverty,” Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Millennium Development Goal of United Nations has stated about Bangladesh that it has placed itself on the ladder of development. He has narrated, “ Bangladesh has managed to place its foot on the first rung of the ladder of development and has achieved economic growth and improvements of health and education party through its own heroic efforts, partly through the ingenuity of NGOs like BRAC and Grameen Bank and partly through investments that have been made, often at significant scale, by various donor governments that rightly viewed Bangladesh not as a hopeless basket case but as a country of worthy of attention, care and development assistance”.

(B) TIME MAGAZINE:

Time Magazine in its recent publication on 4th April, 2006 reported that in spite of many odds it has been facing, a bright future of Bangladesh is visible. Time Magazine has reported:

“Bangladesh, dubbed in the 1970s by Henry Kissinger as a "bottomless basket," is making surprising progress on other fronts, too. According to the U.N.D.P., the country now scores higher than neighbor India on several key barometers of social development, such as infant mortality, child vaccination, and employment of women—a striking turnaround over the past decade or so. The country's much-praised micro-credit scheme, operated by the Grameen Bank, has lent an average of $120 each to 5.8 million people. And the government says 100% of young children are now enrolled in primary school, and that girls at last have equal access to education. The economy is looking up, too. GDP has grown by at least 5% for three years running, and the Asian Development Bank predicts that growth will hit 6.5% in 2006. And Goldman Sachs has rated Bangladesh as one of 11 developing nations that, in the long term, could emulate the success of China, India, Brazil and Russia.

Christine Wallich, World Bank country head, says that in the past 12-18 months international opinion has indeed gone through a sea change. Bangladesh, she says, is now seen as "the little engine that could." Dramatic proof of that comes in plans by India's biggest business group, Tata, for a $2.5 billion investment in Bangladesh in steel, gas, coal and power. If it proceeds as planned, that would exceed the total foreign direct investment the country has attracted since independence.”

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion we can say that Bangladesh has a bright future ahead. Poverty alleviation at rapid speed should be the motto of all our citizens. We should try to achieve the Dream of “Golden Bengal” of our great poet Tagore. As the poet of our National Anthem has dreamt it, it is the duty of our people to materialize his dream for our betterment. Only after materializing his dream, we can more boastfully sing our National Anthem “Amar Sonar Bangla “.


Momtazuddin Bhuiyan is a Social Activist. He is a Naval Architect by profession who did his bachelor and master from Osaka and Tokyo Universities, respectively, in the late 60s and early 70s. He is now stationed in Bangladesh.

 
Back to Top