GO-NGO partnership boon for char development28 January 2023
Ahmed Toufiqur Rahman and Md. Abdullah Al Zobair :
Bangladesh's advancement in women empowerment and some infrastructural aspects has mesmerized global leaders, however, inclusive development due to improper distribution of wealth and property is still a crisis. The economic boom in the country's eastern part also exacerbated the income, consumption, and wealth inequality in northern Bangladesh.
Over the years, income inequalities have plagued the rural poverty pockets in the northern districts, where middle-aged people have experienced shifting their homes more than 40times in their lifetime due to river erosion, flash floods, and different deltaic formation and reformation cycle. Several NGOs have been working on basic health, education, nutrition, livelihood, green energy, women empowerment, gender parity, and access to rights with the support of local and international development partners and incollaboration with local government and government agencies for many years. As climate change impact has been visible across Bangladesh, particularly in low-lying char areas, collaboration among stakeholders will be a boon for their inclusion in mainstream development.
We know that land is one of the four elements of a state as human settlement, life, and development thrive based on land, however, the northern char dwellers live on shifting sediments, impacting all faculties of human development. Around 10 million, out of 170 million, nationals who live on the riverine islands are severely deprived of basic needs, thus they need inclusion in the development stratum.
The most gruesome fact of the underdevelopment is the higher prevalence of poverty rate in the Rangpur division (47.2 percent) in contrast to the national poverty rate (24.4 percent) as of 2016 statistics, though as per the latest data poverty rate is 20.5 percent. In the country's most underdeveloped district Kurigram, thepoverty rate was 70.8 percent, while one of its upazilas Char Rajibpur's poverty rate was the highest at 79.8 percent. When we celebrate graduation ina middle-income country, around 80 percent char people are deprived of social and civil rights due to communication disruption, remoteness, and a higher prevalence of poverty.
We must admit everyone, including the char dwellers, has the right to live in dignity and to participate fully in society. Poverty also denies the rights to enjoy economic and social potentials and other civic rights related to the workplace, social security, and access to housing, food, water, healthcare, and education.
As chars' morphology is different than the main lands and subject to ever-changing topography due to deltaic reformation, customized development policy, approach, and operational procedure are required for uplifting millions of citizens from impoverishment. Many studies revealed that floodwater carries sediment loads as high as 13 million tons per day. The suspended sediment formed new lands in the river channels. While erosion removes land, new lands re-emerge occasionally from river beds in the middle where they did not exist before. Extensive char areas have been created along the bed or basin of big rivers Jamuna, Padma, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Meghna. The chars are usually inundated and eroded by monsoon floods every year, and in consequence, people have to relocate their settlements and move from one place to another. This cyclic movement of people and their settlement relocation is occurring in the char-lands all the time.
Due to the nature of lands and rivers, permanent infrastructure like schools, hospitals, factories and roads are very challenging, though the char lands are highly fertile and yielding. While monsoons bring floods, summers are scorching and winter is covered with bone-shivering cold with seasonal diseases and illnesses. Seasonal unemployment was high in the areas, though reduced moderately in the last couple of years.
Since independence, poverty alleviation constituted the basic theme of all five-year development plans and considerable efforts have been made to alleviate poverty. Against the investment in reducing poverty what we achieve is a matter of deep investigation. The challenges of eradicating all forms of poverty are still the major challenge, while climate change effects and lack of people participation are pulling back the human and economic development in the north. The poor people of the bottom stratum of society who have no capital and little access to resources are the inhabitants of those char areas. The impact of the government and non-government actors is very meagre than what is required at the minimum level.
To reduce the social, institutional, and environmental vulnerability faced in char areas, the government implemented the Land Reclamation Project (LRP) during 1979-91 and then the Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP) during 1994-99. The Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP) started in 2004 aiming at reaching 55,000 poorest households living on northern riverine islands. After the first phase of CLP, CLP-2 began in April 2010 in Kurigram, Gaibandha and Jamalpur, as well as the new districts of Lalmonhirat, Nilpharmari, Rangpur, Pabna and Tangail. CLP-2 also worked till 2016 for lifting 78,000 households out of extreme poverty.
We must admit that NGOs are instrumental in attaining SDGs and lifting Bangladesh's sustainable economic status. In a recent roundtable organized by Friendship and ProthomAlo, experts underscored the exploitation of the char potential and bringing them mainstream development. Undeniably, the government is the main actor in social development.
NGOs and several INGOs also have implemented several projects to reach the most deserving people with basic services. For holisticdevelopment,economic growth, job creation, industrialization, good governance, and ecological sustainability must be addressed. We ask the government, non-government, private, and development partners to work together to chalk outcomprehensive plans for the development of chars and the marginalized people. We cannot change the char morphology but we can consider its nature in chalking development plan and execution. And for that GO, NGO, academia, industries, development partners and community people should work in coordination.
(Toufiqur Rahman is the Assistant Director at Friendship Inclusive Citizenship and Abdullah Zobair worked as the Programme Manager at Friendship Inclusive Citizenship).