Published in The Daily Observer on Friday, 10 November 2017
Shekh Farid, Social Investigator, Advocacy for Social Change Programme, BRAC
Over the last decade, Bangladesh is moving steadily at a moderate pace in terms of social and economic indicators, but a large portion of the north-eastern haor area of the country that accommodates about 19.37 million people cannot go along with national progress. Because of its distinctive hydro-ecological nature, every year the whole region gets submerged in water from May to October bringing severe problems in communication and livelihoods.
This annual flooding coupled with flash flood caused by excessive rainfall in the upstream hilly area across the border of India cause them lag behind the national development progress in terms of all socio-economic indicators.
The physical setting of the area, on one hand, provides huge opportunities for its inhabitants and, on the other hand, poses vulnerabilities and challenges for them. Government in its ‘master plan of haor area’ adopted in 2012 presented the vulnerability and socio-economic exclusion of the region recognizing special requirement for them.
The master plan reports that the literacy rate of the area is only 38 per cent coupled with high drop-out rate and lower attendance rate. More than 53 per cent (53.67 per cent) of the population are depending on agriculture for their livelihoods whereas only 12.52 per cent and 2.59 per cent rely on business and fishery respectably.
On an average, 55.75 per cent of the haor dwellers reportedly don’t use sanitary latrine and the situation gets worse when flood wipes out their sanitary system. The child mortality rate is 76 (per 1000 children) with only 13.4 per cent birth taking place by skilled health personnel. A number of studies with their findings identified haor basin as ‘hot-spots’ of poverty of Bangladesh. There is no denying the fact that the depressed basin are beset with abject poverty falling well-short of all development indicators which seems to be indicative of failure by us to ensure spatial parity in our development.
It goes without saying that the complexity of haor dwellers problems, the vulnerable ecological set-up in the region, and the hardly notable success of the traditional approach of development call for a unique model meant distinctly for the region. Given the vulnerability and the context of haor region, it’s a deemed to be always critical to pave a better road for their development. In search of an effective model BRAC has been piloting a unique development model titled ‘Integrated Development Programme (IDP)’ since 2013 in 4 upazilla of haor areas.
The model can be described as household-need-based one-stop holistic service model as it integrates ten basic programmes through a single management intervention. The Village Development Organizations (VDOs) facilitated by a Programme Organizer (PO) is thought to be one-stop service platform which works as the basis of all services to be provided to its members based on their needs.
Whereas other development models target ‘problems’ or ‘issues’, e.g., health, education, agriculture, the model targets ‘households’ and provides all possible services based on their requirement for social and economic advancement and livelihood diversification. The working area of a service provider is relatively smaller that he works for development of education, health, agriculture, sanitation and hygiene practice; ultra-poverty eradication effort, and community empowerment; human rights protection and ensuring financial access of the concerned households. One technical team being a detached emissary of direct operation layer provides with technical support to those involved in direct service implementation.
A recent study titled “A New Approach to Reducing Poverty and Vulnerability: Evidence from BRAC’s Integrated Development Programme” found that the model was successful in increasing self-employment, per capita income, food security, homestead vegetation, household assets, and savings of the programme participants comparing to the non-intervention area.
As is found, the intervention successfully improved sanitation and hygiene practices, nutritional status of under-five children, and other health indicators among the people in the intervention area. Evidence also suggests that the integrated model also increased the awareness of people on gender-based violence and other legal issues that resulted in lower incidence of sexual harassment and early marriages.
In this poverty pocket and hard-to-reach area where communication is quite challenging, the approach also proved to be cost-effective. In the meantime, questions may arise that how one person can effectively provide all services required for them. Study shows that the continuous support from the technical team successfully made them capable of working with all the problems of the households through diversified intervention.
While many development interventions for the haor dwellers could not bring optimum success to lift them out of the poverty cycle, the integrated model discussed here proved to be a better answer to the inter-connectedness of their problems and their socio-economic exclusion. Government and other development agencies can consider replicating the model in other part of the haor region, and largely for any other difficult-to-reach marginalized community of Bangladesh.