Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bangladesh social safety nets reduce poverty despite challenges

Food aid to vulnerable groups, vital for anti-poverty strategy

BANGLADESH, ONE of the poorest among the least developing nations, has been able to provide social safety nets despite inadequate interventions, helping to elevate significant portions of the population from poor to non-poor status.

The safety nets that reach the poor have elevated their living standards, increased their average income and enabled them to buy cattle and to lease farm lands.
The conclusions are part of a study commissioned by the Bangladesh government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report, “Social Safety Nets in Bangladesh,” presented Thursday by development economist Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, portrays a scenario that gives hope to the 56 million living in poverty in both rural and urban areas.
However, government officials lamented that reaching the hard-core poor in remote villages was the biggest challenge, despite efforts to plug "leakages" in the distribution of food aid to stabilize the safety nets of the vulnerable population.

Weak accountability of elected representatives responsible to ensure the safety nets and poor monitoring system has encouraged such leakages, said Dr. Abdur Razzaque, minister for Food and Disaster Management at a forum discussing the report.

Leakage has been attributed to pilferage, corruption and malpractices with food aid. Razzaque squarely blamed the members of parliament and grassroots administrative bodies. Various leakage-proof methods were adopted, he said, but were dodged by the bad guys.
Despite the leakage, the government promised to continue with its anti-poverty strategy with the financial support of the multilateral donors European Union and UNDP, which have pledged $1.63 billion to reach 35 million who are in extreme poverty, the study reported.

The study recommends scaling up social investment to ensure gradual adoption of “safety ladders,” an innovative project by a nonprofit organization that has demonstrated positive results in moving people out of poverty.

Despite their positive benefits, infrastructure projects have often been considered administratively demanding and subjected to large leakage of resources if they are not well monitored and effectively administered with unbiased attention to the poor, said Rahman.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at