Progress and Prosperity: Social Justice in 2015



With the economy growing annually over 6%, living standards rising for most people and the country maintaining stability throughout 2015, Bangladesh has in recent times been dubbed a development role model having produced consistent progress in economic, social and human development indicators. In continuation of the profound transformation the county has undergone since the Awami League led government assumed office for the second straight term in January 2014, the nation has been elevated to the lower middle income status in 2015.

Remarkable progress has been achieved for having decreased unemployment and poverty, as well as developing a pluralistic healthcare, extending electricity coverage, enduring quality education for all, revamping infrastructure and stepping up the country's digitization aspirations. Moreover, the country emerged as the developing world’s biggest success stories in attaining most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and has set new lessons for the world in achieving the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The architect of this surprising model of development is Honourable Prime minister Sheikh Hasina who has set the blueprint with her charter of change “Vision 2021”, the manifesto envisaged and declared by her party before the ninth national parliamentary election. By breaking with orthodox models for progress, HPM Sheikh Hasina, since then, has been helping to forge a new Bangladesh centered on building a middle income nation by the 50th anniversary of our independence and a developed nation by 2041.

Buoyed by this momentum of growth, an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis appear content to have HPM Sheikh Hasina in charge. A poll released by Nielsen-Bangladesh in last December, echoing previous surveys, gave her an impressive 67% approval rate with equal measure of support for the Awami League led government. On top of that, another survey, commissioned jointly by, British Council, ActionAid Bangladesh and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), revealed in last September that, 75% youths see the country as a more prosperous nation in the next 15 years under the Awami League government.

In a series of special reports, we will highlight the activities and achievements which took place in an array of sectors in 2015. The third of our twelve special reports looks at the milestone achievements in various aspects to achieve social justice in Bangladesh in 2015.

Budgetary Allocation
In 2015-16, the budgetary allocation for ensuring social safety scaled to $4.75 billion,that accounts for 12.72% of the entire budget, up from $185 million in 2007. Currently, as many as 142 special programmes have been put in place across the country while 8 more progremmes devised by Sheikh Hasina are bringing positive changes. Another initiative “Employment for Ultra-Poor”, introduced by the present government, has generated an 80 day employment scheme for around 5.4 million people over the last six years. Last year, as many as 8,80,000 people received the fruition of that programme, resulting in the country witnessing the highest rise in rice equivalent wage. With a twofold increase in the last six years, the value of that scale soared to 8kg last year from 5 kg in 2005.

Total number of beneficiaries under Rural Social Service (RSS) program is 2.5 million. Under Rural Maternity Center (RMC) Program for the empowerment and economic emancipation of over 8,05 ,000 women are getting benefits from 318 programs in 64 districts. A total of 1,50,050 persons are getting benefit under rehabilitation program for the disabled and acid victims. 'Ashrayan' is one of the eight innovative initiatives of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 61,874 persons are benefited under the loan project of Asrayan (Phase-1). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken special initiative to sanction allowance for the destitute women. Around 2.7 million citizens are receiving old age allowance. Another 4,00,000 persons have received allowance from the insolvent scheme and 50,000 disabled students received stipends.

Alleviating Poverty
In a space of a decade, the rate of poverty decreased by 18%, coming to 22.4% in 2015 from 40% in 2005. Approved last year, the seventh five year plan incorporates target to create 12.9 million additional jobs by 2020, including 2 million jobs abroad for migrant workers. Moreover, works are underway, in accordance with the plan, to reduce poverty rate from 22.4% to 18.6% and extreme poverty to around 8.9% by the said time.

The government is implementing various projects for poverty alleviation and rural development. Char Livelihood Project-2, Integrated Rural Development Program, Rural Housing (modern housing) Scheme, Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP), Extension Program of Milk Vita, Construction of Bangabandhu Academy for Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development etc. are among the mentionable. At present the number of small scale agriculture based farm stands at 18.72 lakh. The beneficiaries has transacted taka 2,573 crore through online which is a result of digital Bangladesh. 485 Upazilas of 64 districts are already covered by online transaction facility.

Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB) has developed 1,99,688 societies and groups so far to widen its poverty alleviation program. 18,460 deep tube wells, 44,523 shallow tube wells, 19,405 power generated pumps and 2,73,000 hand generated pumps have been distributed among the members of BRDB under irrigation project to boost up agricultural production. Bangladesh Academy of Rural Development (BARD) has trained up 3,651 participants through 88 training programs and awareness building workshops. About 2.5 lakh people directly and 10 lakh people are indirectly benefitted in 28 upazilas of Kurigram, Jamalpur, Gaibandha, Bogra and Sirajgonj districts under the Char Livelihood Project (CLP), a unique initiatives for the residents of remote riverine islands.

Large Scale Sheme for Equity
Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy: Taking a giant step forward in ensuring social and human development along with economic development of the country, the Awami League government has sanctioned a new Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy. It makes provisions for, among others: minimum age for work; fair wages; decent working conditions; fixed working hours; identity cards; contract of employment; maternity leave and legal actions against physical or verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Enactment of the policy has received high praise from different stakeholders.

National Social Security Strategy: Last year, the government has launched a new National Social Security Strategy that will bring more than 30 million people under various social safety net scheme for their entire life involving around $11 billion. Aimed at addressing poverty, vulnerability and marginalization, the prime goals include ensuring efficient use of resources, strengthening delivery system and securing a more inclusive form of social security. Currently around 5 million widows, physically challenged and elderly people are the recipients of monthly assistances under social safety schemes monthly.

Former Enclave Dwellers: With an aim to change the lives of erstwhile enclaves, resulting from the Land Boundary Agreement operationalized last year, the government has devised and is implementing an array of measures to help the people gain access to all the basic amenities. A high-powered committee supervised the process of work on the necessary project for the welfare of enclave people. The central bank directed all locally operational scheduled banks to extend farm loans to the citizens of the 111 former enclaves. Another US$24.71 million project has been rolled out to develop infrastructure in these areas. To bring these people under electricity coverage, another project has been undertaken worth $4.04 million. Rural cooperatives have been formed to ensure over 10,000 families become financially independent. Around 1,500 primary schools are to be set up and a scheme worth 9.97 crore is being implemented for improving their lives. For another project which aims to ensure access to pure drinking water and sanitation for these people, 25 crore has been allocated by the government.

Development Research: Giving a major boost to the nation’s march towards the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the government sanctioned an allocation worth around $84 million to four ministries for facilitating research work in order to enhance the country’s socio-economic status by 2030. The Agriculture Ministry was allocated $37.4 million, Science and Technology $16.5 million, Health and Family Planning $10.3 million, and Education around $3 million.

Food Assistance Programme: A wholesale reform is set to be initiated in the existing government feeding assistance scheme in order to make the programme work more effectively, benefit more lives and ensure the highest level of accountability. Under the new move, the government will sell rice at a token price of only Tk15 per kg, replacing the existing no-price-tag Test Relief and Vulnerable Group Feeding programme, while the reforms will allow the government to provide cash instead of food grain to people working in special TR projects.
Safety Ensured In RMG Factories: According to an inspection carried out by the government, in association with the International Labour Organization (ILO), Canada, the Netherlands and United Kingdom, more than 80% of the 1,475 surveyed garment factories in Bangladesh supplying global retailers have been found to adhere to building codes, as well as fire and electrical safety standards. Among the other factories, the government has ordered 37, which accounted for less than 2%, to be closed for failing to address safety issues on their premises and another 209 have been warned they would be closed if they didn't take remedial measures immediately.

New Nutrition Policy: Headed by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Cabinet has sanctioned the draft of the national nutrition policy that aims to ensure nutrition for mothers, children, adolescent girls and the poor people. The objective is to provide better nutritious food to people, particularly mothers, adolescent girls, children and the deprived and to improve the quality of lives to expedite national development. The earlier National Food and Nutrition Policy (NFNP) was formulated in 1997, during the previous Awami League government.

Fund For Marginal Farmers: The government has formed a fund of $107 million with financial assistance of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to provide loans to small and marginal farmers at a low interest. The loan would be disbursed through micro-credit financing agencies (NGOs). Of the total fund, the JICA has given $ 97 million in loan assistance while Bangladesh Bank would contribute the remaining amount from its own sources.

Rehabilitation Of Homeless: Last year, a visionary scheme was announced to build houses for over 5,00,000 people deprived of shelter facilities by 2020. Between 2009 and 2014, the government rehabilitated 60,000 homeless people with land and houses while works are underway to make sure around 60,000 gains access to housing facilities .

Global Perception
A report released by Human Development Index shows Bangladesh has outshone all the South Asian countries including the likes of India, showing the world a new road in translating its income into human development. Health education, social safety and new technology adoption show astonishing progress with an average annual growth of 1.64% in the last two and a half decades.

Moreover, according to the latest Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index, Bangladesh ranked second in South Asia to lead the table for lifting people from the clutches of hunger. The report, published for third consecutive year, puts Bangladesh in the 14th position among 45 developing countries, up from 20th in 2014.

According to a new survey administrated by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Bangladesh became a shining example in reducing child malnutrition among the developing countries, especially in the Asian region. From 59 % in 1990, the child stunting figure slid to 41% in 2011 and further reduced to 36% currently.

Projecting Bangladesh as a focal country, a global initiative was launched in the United States in November to end hunger and under nutrition by 2025. Compact2025 -- the programme designed by the Washington-based global food policy think-tank International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) -- aims at achieving global food security and nutrition by 2025, five years ahead of 2030, the year set for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

In October last, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally received the FAO ‘Achievement Award’ bestowed upon Bangladesh, in recognition for the landmark progresses in fighting hunger and undernourishment. The award mentioned that Bangladesh reached the MDG target to curb country's population sufferings from undernourishment by at least 50% or to bring it below 5%.

A United Nations report on global hunger, published last year, highlights Bangladesh for having cut chronic hunger by more than half since 2000. The report cites Bangladesh as one of a number of bright spots in a global effort to eradicate hunger by 2030. Bangladesh has been referred to as one of three success stories that give the world hopes of eliminating hunger.

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