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The United Nations’ Millennium Declaration has created a way to rid of the world’s most pressing issues such as poverty and hunger. Its initiatives are set to be achieved until 2015 yet most countries are far from achieving them, especially the developing nations. This research paper will try to delve into the intricacies of the Millennium Development Goals in the case of Bangladesh and its status in achieving the first target goal, which is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

The United Nations’ “Millennium Declaration” and its effect on Eradication of

Poverty in Bangladesh

I.                   Introduction

A country’s development relies on its ability to maintain a humane standard of living, which constitutes the basic needs of its people. Such needs like food, water, shelter, education, health care, employment opportunities and equality of rights are necessities that contribute to the overall well-being of an individual, and if provided for, would be most beneficial to a country’s ideal progress.

This aspiration for sustainable living has led to the creation of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, in which world leaders pledge to achieve a global partnership to motivate countries to improve their standards of living by adhering to eight targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Each of these goals aims to forge a stable base for human development as it establishes ambitious strategies that would generate solutions to most development barriers such as poverty and hunger, communicable diseases, uneven distribution of water, sanitation and educational facilities, increase in mortality rates, inequality of rights and environmental deprivation. With the aid of government sectors and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB); the MDG is set to be completed by 2015, a process of fifteen years starting 1990 (UNDESA, 2007).

Ambitious as the MDG may seem, most countries fall short in expectations when the results are brought in, especially in developing countries where the tools needed to attain these goals are either non-existent or are strained by politics and socio-economic standings. While annual reports recorded by government and international organizations indicate changes with regard to the progress of a country, it is mainly concentrated in the urban areas and are regionally scattered. Such is the case with developing countries hailing from the South and sub-Saharan states which still have the highest incidence reports of poverty, despite wavering successes in its implementation of the MDG. The latest World Bank report indicates that over 40 % of the population in the average cities of the developing countries lives in poverty (World Bank, 2007).

The country of Bangladesh is one example of this occurrence since it has made some progress in keeping track of the MDG but the outcome is largely seen in regions where urbanization abounds like its capital Dhaka and other south eastern districts such as Chittagong and Sylhet. A government report on the national poverty line released in 2006 indicated that at least 63 million people in the country are said to be poor, with one third living in extreme poverty (UNDESA, 2007).

Geographically, Bangladesh is a small country comprising of a unified ethnic population than many other countries in South Asia. Nonetheless, it is marked with considerable regional differences brought about by the country’s distinct history, dialect, custom, agrarian resources and socio-economic development. This has led to the difficulties in the implementation of the MDG targets.

Poverty and hunger is at the forefront of the MDG scheme, yet progress is at a stand still as developing countries struggle to keep up with the demands of the population and the world market. Much of the unresolved issues that concerns poverty affects the successful implementation of the other goals.

In Bangladesh alone, disparities can be seen in the poverty ratios of the six different districts, namely Khulna, Barisal and Rajshahi in the north west and Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet in the south east. It also doesn’t help most of the populous districts from the north west are also home to the largest number of malnourished children, which accounts to over 40 % (UNDESA, 2007).

There also seems to be a discrepancy in the delivery of the results from both the governments and the international organizations that monitor the achievement of the MDG and this clearly has a bearing on the reach of the MDG in the respective regions of the world.

The interrelation of poverty indicators in all of the MDG targets imposes doubt in the effectiveness of the MDG initiatives. This directs one to question:

Has there been a reduction in hunger and poverty in Bangladesh as a direct result of the said initiatives?
If not, what are the reasons that may have contributed in the delay?

II.                Literature Review

            The long-standing discussion of what constitutes poverty has greatly affected the way governments and development institutions view the economic situation in their countries. Since 1990, extreme poverty is quantified by an average representation of the poverty lines in reference to the developing world. Jefferey Sachs interestingly gives an annotated definition of poverty as “the poverty that kills” (Sachs, 2005).

            Amartya Sen has also a cut-throat description of poverty which resides in the proportions of entitlements that are attached to the “haves and have nots” (Sen, 1981). In relation to that view, Ebrahim’s discourse in Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals, poverty is said to be limited by the conditions that are set by the society in which they belong and take part of (Ebrahim, 2007).

            The World Bank initially set the standard at $1 a day in 1985 but as the years went by and changes in economic development took place, the international poverty line was revised to a $1.08 a day which was measured in terms of 1993 purchasing power parity (PPP). This was done in order to raise the price level of a country’s PPP so as to keep balance with the developed countries (World Bank, 2007).

            The scope of poverty is indeed massive and most often than not, the most populous areas have the highest poverty incidences to date. In Bangladesh alone, poverty is held to be a rural phenomenon with 85% of the country’s poor located in rural areas (World Bank, 2007).

Those who are considered poor are not only those with the lowest incomes but also those who are the most deprived of health, education and other aspects of human well-being. Ebrahim expounds on this concept further, stating that those who suffer from social exclusion and are not given the chance to participate in the society are also considered to be poor (Ebrahim, 2007).

            A lot of factors have been considered in monitoring the prevalent conditions that perpetuate a low cost of living but this paper will not delve into the intricacies that envelope the concept of poverty as that would be another research topic.

The Millennium Summit that took place in 2000 produced the UN Millennium Declaration which sought to reduce poverty, improve health, and promote peace, human rights, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. This also set pace for world leaders to establish a global partnership that would help achieve economic stability through the initiatives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Many countries were hopeful for the outpour of aid that such initiatives might bring to the country, especially the developing countries that depend on them for their many development projects and programs. Even though there has been some negative feedback from experts who deem the targets unrealistically time-bounded and inconsistent, many are prone to just shrug it off and remain positive.

In the case of Bangladesh, the country is said to have nearly attained the goal relating to eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, as witnessed in the active participation of Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and other institutions from both the private and public sectors. One of its achievements is the implementation of microfinance in order to help the poor to increase their incomes through self-employment. The Grameen Bank of Bangladesh is said to be one of the most successful microfinance institutions in the world. With over 7.5 million borrowers, it has aided 65 per cent of the poor population to lift them out of poverty.

Despite the development changes that have taken place within the confines of the Bangladeshi society, many of the poorest regions struggle through poverty and malnutrition which derails the achievement of the MDG.

For most of the poor population in the country, access to basic needs are likely to be adversely affected by conflict, natural disasters and economic instabilities, as well as the recent increases in food prices and the increasingly visible effects of global warming.

Higher food prices limit the poor’s ability to obtain not only food but also other basic goods and services which include health care and education. Most of the urban poor and the landless rural poor are in this position. Poor mothers are more likely to die in childbirth while children of poor families are more likely to be malnourished and are correspondingly more susceptible to an early death from childhood diseases. All of the mentioned factors places the implementation of the MDG to a stand still.

According to Jeffrey Sachs, there are four major contributors that hold back the development of the MDG in most developing countries. One is governance failure, which is a given since the advancement of programs and policy frameworks would not push through if government initiatives are not strong enough to implement them. Second is the so-called poverty trap that renders the poor in stagnation as they are said to be too poor to lift themselves out of their poverty situation. Third is a geographical condition which is the physical attributes of the land that places the country in a natural no-win situation. And the last one, the fourth major contributor is the areas of specific neglect, which comprises the overlooked areas in policy-making (Sachs, 2005).

The MDG are nominal and limited, but are very useful targets that could serve as a political framework for leveraging political commitment to poverty-focused development. However, it should not undermine existing broader obligations on the part of governments to international human rights law. The MDG can only be achieved within a rights framework where citizens and governments are active participants in restructuring global and national power relations, in order to transform the root causes of poverty. Amartya Sen had stated that poverty eradication should have a people–centred approach by recognizing those who do not a voice in the scheme of economic progress (Sen, 1981).

 It is highly suggested that steps to development should undergo a political process that engages people from all walks of life that would advance their livelihood and secure their future in their world. Hence, democratic governance and citizens’ rights, at all levels, with full local ownership of development initiatives, are fundamental (Sachs, 2005).

Poverty eradication is inherently a political process specific to the local economic, social, cultural, ecological and gender equality circumstances in each country. The need to study the precepts of poverty is crucial for the development of policies that enables economic stability to a country. Hunger and poverty among the masses is a moral and ethical subject matter which has local, regional and international ramifications. It is important to have an understanding of the poverty situation as it affects each individual regardless of race, gender or status in life.

III.             Methodology

This research paper will concern materials that illustrate the progress of Bangladesh in terms of achieving the first goal in the MDG, which is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Research was done through the obtainment of information from official reports conducted by the Bangladesh Government, the United Nations and World Bank. It has also made use of scholarly journals/articles and other various books that would aid in forming a conclusion for the said research question.

The research method applied to this paper was the descriptive method, which centralized on finding relevant data on the reduction levels of poverty and hunger in Bangladesh. The time frame to which this research paper has been set to is from the period of 2005 to 2007. The results will depend on the development indicators that are found in the MDG index, which are:

Indicator 1: Proportion of population below $1.08 per day

Indicator 2: Poverty gap ratio

Indicator 3: Share of the poorest quintile in national consumption

            Indicator 4: Percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary consumption.

Indicator 5: The prevalence of underweight children below five years of age.

IV.             Data Analysis & Results

Bangladesh has shown substantial improvement towards reducing poverty at the aggregate level. Since 1990, the incidence of poverty has been conducted in a five-year succession with the aid of the nationally representative Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS, 2007).

Proportion of population below $1 (PPP) per day

As stated under Indicator 1 of the first MDG target, the expected annual rate of poverty reduction that the country should achieve is 1.23 per cent. In a report released by HIES in 2005, the incidence of poverty was said to have fallen from 58.8 per cent in 1991 to 40.0 per cent in 2005. That was 1.7 per cent lower than the target rate of 41.7 per cent for that year. Based on this result, it can be said that the actual rate attained in 2005 has surpassed the targeted rate of up to 1.34 per cent (UNDESA, 2007).

Despite significant changes in poverty incidences, at the regional level, there seems to be a disparity in the pacing of poverty reduction as some states are said to have decelerated in the overall indicator of poverty reduction while the other states have fared well. In the HIES 2005 report, the incidence of poverty was inconsistently higher in the three north western divisions than with the three remaining south eastern divisions (BBS, 2007).

The north western states Khulna, Barisal and Rajshahi were said to have increased by 45.7%, 52.0% and 51.2% as compared to the escalation found in the remaining south eastern states: Chittagong with a rate of 34.0%, Dhaka with 32 % and 33.8% for Sylhet (BBS, 2007).

Based on the given figures, one could observe that regional differences were astute as the poverty headcount stretched from 32 per cent in Dhaka and 34 per cent in Chittagong and Sylhet, to over 50 percent in Barisal and Rajshahi. In fact, Dhaka and Chittagong alone contributed as much as 79 percent of the total reduction in poverty headcount between 2000 and 2005 (BBS, 2007).

The government report indicates that the poverty ratio is highly concentrated in a few areas which comprise Bogra, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Faridpur, Tangail, Jamalpur, Sylet and Comilla and accounts for 42% of the poor populaion in the country. Out of a total of 14, it was stated that almost three-quarters of all the poor is massively located in the six regions mentioned earlier (BBS, 2007).

The geographical concentration of the poor has significant implications in furthering target interventions for poverty reduction. Those who are considered as poor in Bangladesh are slated to be agricultural laborers, small farmers and self- employed entrepreneurs who have large families and are still young at age (UNDESA, 2007).

As was noted in the 2007 BBS Mid-term report, the 2005 distribution of the labor force between ages 15 and 29 showed that at least 29 percent of it was focused in Dhaka, followed by Rajshahi (24.4%), Chittagong (19.7%), Khulna (13.4%), Barisal (7.7%) and Sylhet (5.8%). In addition, the percent of unemployed population was highest in Dhaka (33.7), followed by Rajshahi (26.9), Chittagong (16.5), Khulna (10.4), Sylhet (7.2) and Barisal (5.2) (BBS, 2007).

Poverty Gap Ratio

 In reference to the measurement index of the UNDP, the poverty gap ratio is described as an indicator that measures the depth of poverty. It is said to represent the collective income deficit of the poor relative to the poverty line, and also indicates the idea of the resources needed to increase the level above the poverty line (UNDESA, 2007).

 With regard to the reductions in the poverty gap ratio, the results in Bangladesh were remarkable at best, notwithstanding the regional differences and employment rates. In the government reports released in 2007, the poverty gap declined from 17.2 in 1992 to 9.0 in 2005. Squared poverty gap also declined from 6.8 to 2.9 in that same time frame until 2007 (BBS, 2007).

Share of the poorest quintile in national consumption

According to the UNDESA 2007 report, there has been no standard data for this indicator since 1990 as it was not included in the Household Expenditure Survey. An alternative was created for this indicator, citing it as share of the poorest in national income.

In 1992, the poorest quintile had a 6.5 per cent share of national income. This figure fell to 5.3 per cent in 2005. The 2005 HIES report presented that the annual rate for the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption is 8.8 per cent (UNDESA, 2007).

Percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary consumption.

In the reports produced by the UNDP, Bangladesh was also said to be on track in reducing the prevalence of underweight children aged below five by half. In 2005, this rate percentage fell to 39.7 per cent against early recordings in 1991 of 67 per cent, a result that was well below the MDG target of 46.6 percent (UNDESA, 2007).

The HIES 2005 report indicated that the government used to employ the method of The Direct Calorie Intake (DCI) which initially measured the minimum level of dietary energy consumption. In the year 2000, the BBS replaced this method with the Cost of Basic Needs method. The DCI method constructed three reference lines with the threshold of 1805 kcal per capita per day as the minimum level (UNDESA, 2007).

This has been used as a proxy for the minimum level of dietary energy consumption. With this measure, Bangladesh is just on track to reach the target of 14.0 per cent in 2015. The proportion of population below the 1805 kcal level of dietary intake fell to 19.5 per cent in 2005 against a target of 19.6 per cent for that year (UNDESA, 2007).

The World Bank report has stated that Bangladesh is one of the few countries to show such substantial progress on this indicator. If this trend is sustained, Bangladesh will most likely be able to achieve the MDG target of lowering the frequency of underweight children to 33 per cent by 2010, five years before the 2015 deadline (World Bank, 2007).

Despite recent progress, child malnutrition in Bangladesh remains to be among the highest in the world, and more severe than most other developing countries. According to the UNDP report, the proportion of underweight or malnourished children in Bangladesh is 16 percent higher than in 16 other Asian countries at similar levels of per capita GDP (UNDESA, 2008).

Recent surveys indicate that nearly one-half of children below the age of 5 or 6 years are moderately underweight or stunted. In contrast, the rate of those who are severely underweight or stunted is between 10 to 18%. Thus, children in Bangladesh suffer from short-term, acute malnutrition, reflected in humanitarian crises, as well as from longer-term; chronic under-nutrition, as manifested in high rates of stunting (UNDESA, 2007).

Malnutrition in the country is said to be aggravated by a number of factors that influences its populace such as natural calamities, the influx of refugees, improper feeding practices and the size of its household.

V.                Discussion

According to government reports, Bangladesh is said to be one of the leading countries in South Asia that is on track with poverty reduction. In 1991, 57 percent of Bangladesh’s population was living below the poverty line. By 2000, the percentage decreased to 49 percent. From 2000 to 2005, the poverty rate further dropped to 40 percent with around six million people lifted out of poverty. Nonetheless, this did not justify the discrepancy of poverty incidences in the six divisions of the country that slants the achievements of the first MDG targets (BBS, 2007).

Certain limitations offer some insight into the shortcomings in implementing the targets to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty. The first limitation to the  MDG 1 target is the noticeable East-West divide which distorts the overall results for the attainment of poverty reduction. This gap found in the poorest regions is inclined to be more agriculture dependent and less industrialized than other regions.

The prevalent regional patterns may be explained by a number of factors. For one, the eastern part of the country was slated to have a higher concentration of employment opportunities in the manufacturing industry since businesses prefer to set up near the capital and the main port city. Bearing this in mind, connectivity and ease of access to basic needs is experienced by most of its citizens. As for the districts of Noakhali, Pathuakali, Chittagong, Rajshahi, and Sylhet, their economic turnaround only showed little improvement, and therefore, has not achieved most of the MDG targets (World Bank, 2007).

The pattern of remittances also closely reflects the reduction in poverty in the business-oriented areas. In Chittagong, one in four households receives remittances, together Sylhet and Dhaka with 16% and 8% respectively. However, in several household western districts, foreign remittances are well below to their eastern counterparts: 1 % in Rajshahi, 4% in Khulna and 5% in Barisal. There is also some verification on the BBS reports that the distribution of safety net programs with regard to poverty eradication was skewed towards certain Eastern Divisions, as was the case in Sylhet. This implies that even if Bangladesh as a whole attains some of the MDG, there will be several areas in the districts that will remain lagging (World Bank, 2007).

Based on these factors, one can deduce that there is no clear answer as to why Bangladesh has an emerging East-West divide. As a result, partial set of solutions developed into the vein of the MDG also needs to be translated into policy decisions for implementation. The reasons behind the existing divisions in the six district levels require more research.

In reference to Sachs four major contributors to the attainment of the MDG, the geographical condition of Bangladesh appear to invite unfortunate circumstances.

The second limitation that the World Bank has mentioned in their report is the issue of land ownership, which affects the performance of the country in the district levels. While the country is mostly dependent on the agricultural sector, the ratio of households owning 5 acres of land is only 13% compared to 57 % of households that own less than half an acre of land. As indicated in the given figures presented in the data analysis section, the size of the households contributes greatly to the difficulties faced by the government in implementing the MDG targets (World Bank, 2007).

In correlation with the inaccessibility of land areas, the third limitation the country has to deal with the influx of refugees from neighboring countries. Based on the UNDP reports, one of the reasons why the initiatives failed to address the growing poverty rate in the region is the increased level of Internally Displaced People (IDP) or refugees in its territory. Bangladesh has over 600,000 refugees coming from Myanmar because of internal conflicts in the latter, which adds to the dilemma in the distribution of resources (UNDESA, 2008).

The fourth limitation that is said to influence the inconsistency of poverty reduction rates in Bangladesh is the lack of awareness about the MDG in the grassroots level.  In June of 2005, the UNDP Bangladesh communications unit conducted a survey that indicated of less than 3% of the population who are aware of the MDG initiatives. This clearly denotes a lack of effort on the part of the government to include the targeted population into the policy-making process (World Bank, 2007).

In connection to this limitation, some of the country’s deficiencies to date with regard to the attainment of the MDG 1 are due to its failure to make growth processes sufficiently pro-poor. In the UNDP reports, the share of the poorest quintile in both national income and consumption has been reduced over the years, which means that the poor are not benefiting greatly from the growth process. Based on these limitations on the part of the government, one can denote that weak governance is the main culprit for the uneven results with regard to poverty and hunger (UNDESA, 2007).

            The fifth and last limitation is the inaccessibility of data to measure or indicate the country’s progress. Gaps in the MDG data are still a major drawback to the analysis of regional progress. Although the number of assessments found in the government reports are encompassing, many of them are based on a two data point system that does not clearly determine whether the progress is accelerating or decelerating. In the data reports released by the Bangladesh government and the UNDP, there was some information, like the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption and percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary consumption, that were not provided for as the time period in which it was conducted had no access to or had very little to work with the existing factors.

VI.             Conclusion

Bangladesh is on schedule in achieving the first goal of the MDG by 2015 but its economic growth process has not sufficiently benefited the extreme poor, rendering the poorest of the youth to suffer in malnutrition. The East-West division as well as weak governance has played a major role in blockading the reach of the MDG initiatives. Increasing the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption is a major challenge for the country and will require more initiatives that are directed towards the poor.


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