Asia - Pacific

Bangladesh's northern region lags behind in human development

Northern Kurigram district sees 54% extreme poverty, lack of infrastructure development, connectivity problems among causes

SM Najmus Sakib   | 21.10.2021
Bangladesh's northern region lags behind in human development

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Some areas in northern Bangladesh remain in poor condition due to extreme poverty, lack of infrastructure development, and connectivity issues with the rest of the country.

These areas are lagging behind compared to other districts during Bangladesh’s journey towards improvement in the human development situation amid the country’s promising economic status in South Asia.

The northern Kurigram district remains the poorest district, with 54% extreme poverty and about 77% of overall poverty, according to a recent survey by the General Economics Division of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and the UK's University of Bath.

Some 60% of the people in Kurigram are landless, corresponding to 8% average in Bangladesh, while 37% of the total population in the district are day laborers. The northern Dinajpur and Thakurgaon districts are also among the poverty-driven areas in the region, said the data.

While paying a recent visit to Kurigram, people in groups were seen, including women and elderly, gathered to be hired as day laborers at the main points in towns and villages.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Rezaul Munshi, 47, is one of them. He said: “I don't have a piece of farmland or anything left to run business. So, I used to come to the town labor market so that anyone could hire me and I could buy food for my five-member family.”

Photos captured in Kurigram district say—submerged croplands, poor communication, and sanitation, people waiting to be hired as day labor, char land.

“We almost on a regular basis are to shift livelihood due to worsening climate and floods as we live in char land,” he, who hails from a char land or river islands in Chilmari, added.

People in Kurigram own the lowest per capita land in the country.

Bangladesh ranked 76th out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index-2021 published last week. The South Asian country, however, is positioned better than its neighbors India (101st) and Pakistan (92nd) in reducing hunger, while it ranked 84th among 113 countries, in overall food security, including in ensuring dietary diversity, according to the Global Food Security Index.

Development projects, connectivity

An export processing zone (EPZ) has improved the poverty and unemployment situation in the neighboring Nilphamari district.

More development projects are needed, said Shyamal Chandra Sarker, the deputy director of a regional development organization -- Mahideb Jubo Somaj Kallayan Somity.

The EPZ in Nilphamari, another poverty-driven district, employs 28,000 workers in 180 industrial plots there. Local and global partners, including China, Hong Kong, and the UK, have found the EPZ as a good place for investment that is helping people get rid of poverty.

The Chilmari Port in Kurigram, linked to neighboring India, along with an EPZ is still waiting for an operation.

“Even if the ongoing projects could see a speedy progress, the prevailing situation could be improved,” Shyamal Chandra Sarker underlined while talking to Anadolu Agency.

People in the district, many living in over 400 char lands, could not cultivate the food they needed for a year due to floods and char lands. So, poor situations of consuming required diet and healthy foods are common here, he added.

Education, regional integration to expand economy

Zahid Hussain, an economist and former World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, told Anadolu Agency that poverty has been driving the region due to its geological location.

There was a good jump from the poverty of the northern region, including Kurigram in 2010, that cut the poverty gap among the east, west, and the north largely, but the situation got worse again in 2016, according to the government data.

“The change had been made due to agricultural products' price hike in 2008 and as the region’s economy mostly depends on agriculture, it got a chance to revive, and such a change could not be sustainable,” the economist explained.

Mega development projects like the Padma, one of the biggest megaprojects in Bangladesh, for regional connectivity could change the situation, he observed.

“Proper and shorter connectivity (with the port city Chattogram, the east, and west to be integrated with the rest of the country to catch markets there) will expand the region’s economy and promote investment for industrialization.”

Lack of proper education is also among the major obstacles.

“The average participation of both teachers and students in schooling is comparatively low. Many families could not send their children to schools as children have to engage in money-making at early ages,” he continued.

He suggested ensuring access to education and raising the quality of education to get rid of the poor state.

Gov't takes project to improve situation

The government's executive engineer in the Kurigram district Md. Masudur Rahman said: “A 1,490-meter (4,888-feet) long girder bridge in the Chilmari sub-district is being constructed which will ease the communication with the capital Dhaka and other parts of the country. It will help booming socio-economical activities and employment.”

“We are working to enhance road and transport connectivity in the char areas. A total of 21 development projects have been launched which will address poverty, food, and social safety,” he told Anadolu Agency.

The government is also conducting some projects in each sub-district to employ people, including about 1,600 women on a daily basis, he added.

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