Planning minister MA Mannan said, "The main reasons for perpetuating poverty in the haors are injustice and discrimination. The influential and powerful elites who live in the cities are exploiting people in haor with illegal means. It's time to take stern action against them."
He also observed, "Elimination of extreme poverty from haors is difficult by any single organisation. It needs essential collaboration from all those concerned, in both public and private sectors." His views came at a national-level meeting BRAC organised on Wednesday, November 27, at the CIRDAP auditorium in the capital to exchange views on haor development.
Styled on the theme "Collaborative initiatives for haor development", the meeting was organised by BRAC's integrated development programme (IDP). BRAC’s executive director Asif Saleh presided over the event.
Designed especially for the haor region, the implementation of IDP began in 2013. With an integrated strategy of action, it formed 3,550 women-led village development organisations. Through these organisations, BRAC is implementing a series of programmes in the areas of education, healthcare, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene, preventing violence against women, improving living standards and alleviating ultra poverty through financial inclusion and information delivery. Currently, IDP is covering 900,000 people in four subdistricts of four haor regions - Baniachang of Habiganj, Dirai of Sunamganj, Itna of Kishoreganj and Khaliajuri of Netrokona.
In these four subdistricts, only 10 per cent of the families could access different essential services, while the coverage has increased to 75 per cent through IDP interventions. Since 2013, 96 per cent ultra-poor women who were covered by IDP graduated from extreme poverty. At the same time, sanitation coverage in the programme area has increased from previous 17 per cent to 72 per cent now. A total of 47,524 children are going to school, while 90 per cent of the inhabitants of the areas can access healthcare facilities. The programme participants also receive improved quality seeds, training on climate-resilient cultivation method, cattle and poultry vaccination, financial inclusion, family planning services, ante-natal and delivery care and information services.
A presentation was also given at the event on BRAC IDP's learnings from implementation of different initiatives in the haor. A special discussion titled "Future vision for integrated development in haor" followed, moderated by KAM Morshed, director, BRAC Advocacy for Social Change programme. Dr Ali Muhammad Omar Faruque, deputy secretary and deputy director, Department of Bangladesh Haor and Wetlands Development, Anna Minj, director, IDP, Community Empowerment Programme, and Gender Justice and Diversity Programme, Walter Mwasaa, chief of party, Souhardo-III of Care Bangladesh, Anjela Naumann, first secretary and head of aid, Australian High Commission, and Professor Siddiqur Rahman of Jahangir Nagar University, participated in the discussion, among others.
Discussants said the dwellers of the haor regions are troubled with multifarious setbacks. The regions suffer from regular natural calamities, perpetuating an intergenerational fear of instability. Their asset base of land, cattle and poultry and others is very low, while the natural disasters further strain whatever assets they have. Difficult physical communication prevents consistent and quality delivery of essential services including education, health and livelihood, causing perpetuation of poverty. The speakers said only a singular platform competently designed with custom-based services for haor areas can break through this chain of setbacks and bring development at the doorsteps of the haor inhabitants. They said to make that happen, all the government and private development bodies will have to act together.
They further observed that the government should increase the coverage of its social safety net programmes especially for haor areas. Opportunities for demand-based service delivery will also have to be much increased. To bring the haor people into the fold of mainstream development, well-designed, collaborative and integrated initiatives have to be taken for sustainably tackling natural disasters, creating employment opportunities and skilled manpower at the local level.