Assessing the situation of poverty and hunger- related violation of human rights in BangladeshUBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative) || Tuesday 04 April 2023 ||
Bangladesh is set to graduate to a lower-middle-income country by 2024 from the status of a least developed country. The country has attained the World Bank’s lower-middle-income status in 2015 with a GNI per capita of $1,190, which grew to $1,750 in 2018. Since 2005, Bangladesh has been officially enjoyed consistent annual GDP growth of over 6% although the reliability of national data is difficult to ascertain. According to World Bank prediction, the COVID-19 global pandemic has slowed down growth since 2020 (Bank, 2021).
Statistics are political tools. Therefore, the concrete meaning of GDP growth in the real life of the people is difficult to ascertain by numbers. Translating numbers into real-life situations is a challenging task. Such tasks have implications for assessing the human rights situation in Bangladesh. While issues related to the civil and political rights of the people of Bangladesh have attained critical visibility at the international level, the economic, social, and cultural rights have remained conspicuously ignored. Meaningful assessment from the human rights perspective of common concerns such as the right to food, health, shelter, and education is still a major area that requires attention. Amid massive corruption and mismanagement of the economy, the top 1 percent is owning 16.3% percent of the country's total national income . It indicates the inadequacy of the national income data for all the people of the country.
Bangladesh had been dependent on foreign aid. Despite the rhetoric of the free market development policy has often been manipulated by the multilateral and bilateral institutions. The multilateral institutions ignore massive corruption and mismanagement of the economy. The persistent structural bias to the export sector ignores the internal articulation of the national economy. The export production zones exist as ‘pockets’, disarticulated from the total economy, particularly from agriculture and rural economy. Systematic marginalization and the pauperization of the vast agrarian rural life become necessary to constantly release cheap labor and replenish the ‘industrial reserve army’ to be sold in the labor market. Livelihood options are limited and wages are kept low to remain competitive in the international market. The desperate social and economic situation of the poor strikingly manifests when youths take great risks to migrate to other countries for mere biological survival. Since the structural adjustment policies in the 80s and the continuation of neo-liberal injunctions and policy impositions, Bangladesh has been increasingly reduced into a geographical source for cheap labor, both for the domestic and international labor market. The country is also an exporter of cheap commodities, eg., ready-made garments to rich countries. Much of Bangladesh’s economic growth continues to be driven by exports from the $28.0 billion ready-made garments (RMG) industry and the continued remittance inflows from expatriate labor, which reached a record $18.2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2019-20.
In this context, Bangladesh as a member country of the United Nations (UN) is following the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGD)s in 2015 to reduce poverty, eradicate widespread hunger, and address other global challenges of development. In SDG1 it is claimed that the proportion of the population living below the national upper poverty line has consistently declined from 24.3 percent in 2016 to 20.5 percent in 2019. The population below the lower poverty line has also decreased to 10.5 percent.
The SDG2 is about ending hunger and improving malnutrition. According to the government reports, the percentage of the undernourished population has gone down to 14.7 percent in 2017 from 16.4 percent in 2016. The indicators of malnutrition are stunting, wasting and anemia among children under 5 years and women of reproductive age. Although the government claims in the Progress Report (2020) of significant achievement in improving the nutrition situation, about 35% of the population are food insecure, and 10% of ever-married women are moderately or severely food insecure. The prevalence of malnutrition remains a serious public concern for the country.
Sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 & SDG2, will not be fully achievable by 2030, leaving out SDG 16 which focuses on inclusive societies, democracy, strong institutions, justice, and rule of law. Growing economic inequality, non-functioning democracy, the weakening of the major institutions, and non-inclusive growth hinder the achievement of SDG 16. The violence against women (VAW), intentional homicide, lack of safety of movement, human trafficking, bribery to a government official to receive services, non-implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2009, absence of independent functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, etc. are challenges faced by the country. The impartial actions of the law-enforcing agencies and a properly functioning accountability mechanism are not in place. An effective judicial system is also a key challenge in achieving the relevant SDG targets.
Conventional methodology and macro data on poverty, hunger, and malnutrition fall short in providing a picture of concrete reality that requires policy attention. An abstract total picture in terms of number is limited and fails to show the concrete manifestations of poverty and hunger. The quantitative data also is limited to understanding the situation under which the poor people are struggling for their survival. It does not indicate whether the opportunities open to them for earning income and to have access to food are enough and will be sustainable. The COVID -19 pandemic and its effects on health and livelihood have real impacts which need to be assessed as well. Income inequality has also increased among the people.
Access to food is not only a matter of having the purchasing power but also the availability of the food in the market at a price affordable to the people. The quality of food in terms of nutrition is an important measure of access to food. It is not enough to see the number of people who remain hungry (i.e. without food) but to get an estimate of the number of people having inadequate food in terms of quantity and quality. The measures taken for addressing malnutrition are not based on the food produced by the farmers but on the industrial fortification of a few food items that are imported or produced by corporations.
Income inequality and wealth inequality are prevailing in the country and have been increasing even during the pandemic. Income inequality is widening. The political power is concentrated and the opposition political parties and voices are absent. The lack of accountability of the institutions and lack of governance has been of concern. The poor and the marginalized have little access to services from government institutions.
In this study, the main problems addressed are:
1. The extent and nature of poverty among different income groups and different occupational groups
2. The effects on income in different income groups during the COVID pandemic
3. The access to food in terms of quantity and quality by income and occupational groups
4. The situation of poverty within households by gender differences
5. The situation of food accessibility within households by gender differences
6. The number of people under a social protection program
7. The proportion of income inequality in the area
8. The composition of food among the poor and other social groups.
9. The access to food produced by the farmers and by import.