International Development Committee publish report on Bangladesh

04 March 2010

Bangladesh has reduced poverty levels from 57 per cent at the beginning of the 1990s to 40 per cent in 2005 but much more needs to be done to help the country’s poorest people, says a report published today by the International Development Committee

Despite a steadily growing economy, Bangladesh’s potential to achieve more widespread poverty reduction is held back by its poor record on governance and high levels of corruption. Successive governments have failed to respond to the needs of poor and marginalised communities and instead state power has too often been used for personal and partisan ends.

The Chairman of the Committee, Malcolm Bruce MP, said:

"A total of 64 million people still live on less than $1 a day in Bangladesh. Of these 35 million are extremely poor and 15 million live on the equivalent of 20p per day. These people have not benefitted from Bangladesh’s economic growth and are disadvantaged by the way in which the political system works.

"DFID must ensure that its programmes help to raise the demand for accountability and strengthen the mechanisms which hold the Government to account, particularly the parliament.

Bangladesh has had a long relationship with the UK and is the fourth highest recipient of UK bilateral assistance. DFID’s programme there in the current financial year is worth £125 million and will rise to £150 million in 2010-11, making the UK the largest bilateral donor.

The Chairman said:

"There are 500,000 people of Bangladeshi origin living in the UK who make a significant contribution to Bangladesh through remittances and other forms of support. DFID must do more to engage with them.

"They have significant capacity and a desire to contribute to the future prosperity of Bangladesh. The drive to improve governance and reduce poverty in Bangladesh could be enhanced with their cooperation."

The report praises the innovative non-governmental organisations (NGO) community in Bangladesh which plays an important role in delivering basic services in areas where state provision is limited. An excellent example of the sector’s pioneering approach is the BRAC Targeting the Ultra Poor programme.

However, the contribution of non-governmental organisations to providing services should not mean that the state is released from its proper responsibility to meet the basic needs of its people. Donors must continue to build the capacity of the Government of Bangladesh to do this.

The Chairman said:

"NGOs in Bangladesh have developed novel ways of delivering services, especially in health, education, livelihoods and microfinance. DFID provides funding for both NGO and government systems and is working to build links between the two.

"This is important since it is the state which has primary responsibility for providing services. DFID is also helping to build the capacity of the Government to deliver services by strengthening the civil service and the public finance systems. These are important interventions and must be seen as long-term investments over 10 or more years."

The report adds that gender inequality continues to be a significant problem in Bangladesh. There has been a welcome increase in the number of girls attending primary school. But there has been insufficient progress in tackling maternal mortality and women remain marginalised and excluded from key decision-making processes.

More needs to be done to challenge the traditional role of women in Bangladesh. DFID should actively promote women in positions of power and apply gender targets for all its programmes, not just those in the social sectors, the report says.

Bangladesh is likely to be adversely affected by climate change and the poorest people will be hardest hit. The report adds large parts of the country are low-lying and susceptible to more frequent and intense floods and cyclones. Bangladesh will need assistance to cope with the effects of rises in sea levels and increased salinisation.

The Chairman said:

"Helping the poorest adapt to the impacts of climate change is important. We saw an excellent DFID programme in the Chars islands which focused on both poverty reduction and resilience to climate change. More work of this kind is necessary.

"Climate change could mean that 30 million people have to move from their homes. DFID should begin to consider the implications of this now. Donors must also provide adequate additional funding, earmarked for climate change, and not taken from the sums which they have already committed to poverty reduction in Bangladesh."

Image: iStockphoto

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