The Challenges Faced by the Extreme Poor
“Before, I felt vulnerable. I did not have any land and my husband did not work. We have always struggled. I was used to only eating twice a day and drinking water from the river”.
Nurun Nahar is 23 years old. She is pregnant. Like most people living in the CLP’s working areas, she is starting a family at a young age. Joining the CLP has radically changed her life. Nurun has recently received a cow, which will soon give birth to a calf, and she owns 30 chickens.
Nurun and her husband Sohel used to be extremely poor. She did not have land, work opportunities were limited, she was food insecure and did not have access to basic services. People living on island chars are some of the most vulnerable and impoverished in Bangladesh. It is this extreme poverty which is targeted by the CLP and UKaid’s other extreme poor programmes.
UKaid has four programmes in Bangladesh which target the extreme poor. SHIREE, a sister programme of the CLP, has developed a ‘Manifesto for the Extreme Poor’, which presents a set of policy recommendations to reduce extreme poverty in Bangladesh.
The Manifesto was discussed and reviewed during Extreme Poverty Day 2012. Government officials, NGOs, civil society activists and private sector representatives attended this event. The CLP strongly supports the Manifesto and is dedicated to fighting extreme poverty.
The CLP plays a central role in lifting households out of extreme poverty in the chars. By providing an integrated package of support, the programme targets the greatest challenges faced by char dwellers. These challenges identified in the Manifesto, include:
- Vulnerability to external shocks
- Insufficient economic opportunities
- Exclusion from public services
- Health and nutrition vulnerabilities
- Gender and minority specific vulnerabilities
Island chars are prone to flooding and erosion. During the annual monsoon, floodwater forces unprotected char dwellers to migrate. Households often lose their assets, rendering them even more vulnerable. One of the CLP’s main objectives is to address this challenge and reduce vulnerabilities to external shocks. With the CLP’s support, Nurun’s plinth was raised in 2011. This plinth keeps her family and her assets safe all year round.
With the CLP, Nurun and Sohel have also improved and diversified their economic opportunities. By accumulating income generating assets using the CLP asset transfer grant, Nurun has developed a more sustainable livelihood. Her cow is soon giving birth to a calf and she plans to sell the milk produced.
Another challenge faced by char dwellers is the remoteness of these islands. This isolation makes it difficult for the government to provide access to basic services, especially schools and health care. The CLP is dedicated to bridging these gaps and is lobbying the government and relevant agencies to bring essential services to the chars. With the CLP’s direct support, Nurun will receive care during and after her pregnancy.
‘I am confident that I will give birth to a healthy child’, she claims.
As part of the CLP’s Social Development Training, Nurun has learnt about health-related issues and how to reduce the spread of diseases within her household. Her tube well has been fitted with a concrete platform and she also has a sanitary latrine which she shares with her neighbours. “I understand the importance of clean water and sanitation and the positive impact they have on health” she explains.The CLP recognises that vulnerabilities faced by people on the chars are highly gendered; in a number of ways women are more vulnerable than men. By placing women at the centre of all its interventions, the CLP seeks to empower women and reduce their vulnerability. It does this in two key ways. First, the transfer of assets to women increases their negotiating power both within the household and in the community. Second, the programme attempts to change gender norms through its social development activities.
‘Thanks to the CLP, I am confident that I will raise my child in a comfortable and stable home’, Nurun explains.
It is clear that people living on the islands face a range of hardships. Through its comprehensive package of support, the CLP addresses a number of these challenges and more. However, coordinated action by and with the Government of Bangladesh is also necessary.
Over the past few years, the CLP has actively been lobbying the government to bring forth their services to the chars. The ‘Manifesto for the Extreme Poor’ is another tool which brings us one step forward to involving the government as well as relevant partners and together lifting households out of extreme poverty.