Poverty is a major obstacle to a country’s development. A healthy and strong nation can never be built unless poverty is eradicated totally or reduced to a tolerable level.
Poverty did exist in the world and it is still there. In fact, it is a complex issue originating from different perspectives. Poor people seek various ways and strategies to get rid of poverty. If they do not find any way, then their livelihood becomes an integral part of poverty. To liberate the nation from extreme poverty (i) a country should have a sustained economic growth and (ii) the distribution of income among the people should be made transparent while reducing the income discrimination. An efficient economic management can lead to continued economic growth by enhancing investment and creating competitive market.
Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971 under the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu wanted to make a Golden Bangladesh free from hunger, poverty and exploitation. But on 15 August 1975, the Father of the Nation and many members of his family were brutally killed by some misguided army men. Then many years have passed in a haphazard way. The entire nation was captured by undemocratic rulers, particularly army generals. The people of Bangladesh were passing their days in darkness until Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina took the charge of Bangladesh Awami League and stood beside the helpless people of this country. Subsequently, she became the fearless voice of the peace and democracy loving people, the inspiration of their survival, the leader implementing their hopes and aspirations.
The natural resources and fertile agricultural land that we have are not enough for 160 million people. Besides, the industrial sector is not so wide to mitigate the unemployment problem. The situation is not improving much as the volume of investment is not increasing as expected and there is a lack of application of modern technology and ideas in various fields of economy including the creation of a skilled human resource. The condition of more than 9 million families living below the poverty line is worse than others. Various data shows that the rate of unemployed people in Bangladesh is 4%-5%, though 20% people work at the lower level of their qualifications. However, self-employment rates are around 40% and most of them are uneducated or primary school graduates. It is worth mentioning that about 2 million people enter the labour market of Bangladesh every year.
The steps taken by the present government to alleviate poverty have already earned deep appreciation of the world. Poverty is decreasing every year. However, if the decrease follows the current rate, total reduction of poverty might not be possible before 2030 as indicated by the World Bank. That interprets that the yearly reduction of poverty should be more than the current rate, if Bangladesh likes to achieve the goal set by the UN.
It is essential to include those who live below the poverty line in the human resources development process. As a part of that process, upazilla-wise lists of the poor families should be prepared first. Each family would designate one member for training that would make him a skilled worker like carpenter, plumber, driver, tailor, motor vehicle mechanic, electrician, etc. In this case, if the nominated member of the family is a female, then her training will be according to her scope of work. The selected people will have their training in their own upazilla. About 1.5 million people should be brought under training programmes every year, so that in 6 years, one member of each poor family gets training. It does not seem to be very difficult to organise such training programmes. It is possible using the existing infrastructure. In this regard, the advice and financial supports of the ILO or the World Bank can be taken.
These 1.5 million trained people can be employed in three ways, such as- (1) self-employment, (2) internal employment in public and private sectors, and (3) employment as migrant workers. That is, the first two would get employment in Bangladesh and the third category would get their job outside Bangladesh through migration.
1) The first way is to organise scopes and facilities for self-employment in the country. It is possible to arrange employment for most of the people in this system. If we look into the present self-employment rate of Bangladesh, we can see at least 600,000 people themselves find their own work every year. In this case, acquisition of capital can be a major problem. So, if arrangement is made to provide these trained people with required capital through bank loan, then the rate of self-employment would certainly increase. Many banks would come forward to assist the self-employment project under their micro-financing scheme. If necessary, the government can negotiate with the banks and determine appropriate methods.
2) The second option is to find jobs in various public and private establishments. According to data, about 2 million people are employed in different positions every year in Bangladesh. Some of them are highly educated people, and there are also less-educated people. The number of highly educated people is very few from the poor families. Therefore, it is necessary to formulate necessary employment policies keeping in mind the employment of theese trained workers. However, it is very important to consolidate new thoughts, modern technologies and management that would develop friendly environment for investments and government cooperation for expansion of the job opportunities.
3) We have seen that the families who receive remittance from their members working abroad are financially in a better position than others. It’s true that the families below poverty line will not remain poor if they are converted into remittance recipients families. Therefore, the third way of employment is to send these trained people abroad as migrant workers. Nearly six hundred thousand workers are going abroad from Bangladesh every year. If we give priority to the trained people of these poor families, then poverty could be reduced significantly. We can continue this process for 6 years. If, at least, half a million people from the poor families are sent every year, then 3 million people will be able to go in 6 years. As a result, these 3 million families will be free from poverty. Loans from bank should be made available to meet the migration cost, if necessary. The authorities concerned might take necessary steps to formulate special policies and procedures concerning management of the entire process of migrating workers from these poor families. In this case, the existing central data bank facility of the government can be used. Besides, the government should focus on proper utilisation of the remittances in economic activities as well as arranging rehabilitation programmes for the returning migrant workers so that those families do not go back to the poverty bracket again.
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), poverty rate should be reduced to 3% by 2030. The World Bank said that if the existing trend of yearly poverty reduction in Bangladesh continues, the poverty rate in Bangladesh will stand at 5.98% in 2030. If these three methods mentioned above are implemented in one package together, then in 6-years’ time, poverty could totally be eliminated from Bangladesh. Undoubtedly, poverty reduction is a complex and difficult task and also challenging. With her strong leadership and self-confidence, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be able to transform that challenge into reality and as such, will present Bangladesh to the world community as an example to follow. The people of Bangladesh will be free from the dirt of poverty forever - this is our expectation.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary