DHAKA, Feb 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bilkis Begum has lived on the lakeside in Dhaka's Korail slum for 16 years, but in December 2016, her extended family's 12 houses were razed to the ground by a fire.
The inferno destroyed the oven her husband, Shahid Gazi, used for his bakery and the fridges he relied on for his business selling leftover chicken meat from Chinese restaurants.
For the Gazis, it was a struggle to cobble together the $3,000 they needed to rebuild their homes and business.
They borrowed $900 from moneylenders, and found the rest from relatives and friends. They also got tin, pillars and a little cash aid from Bangladesh-based development agency BRAC.
In addition, they received pro-bono help from architects like Sheikh Rubaiya Sultana, who helped redesign the neighbourhood to protect it better against future fires.
"Architects have social responsibility," said Sultana, an assistant professor at BRAC University in Dhaka. "I watched the fire before my very eyes, but couldn't do anything then."
The Gazi family now has eight new units and the couple are back in business, running a small restaurant on the old site.
"We couldn't have stood back on our own feet unless we got (this) support," said Begum, 32, a mother of three.
A team of 16 architects, planners, engineers and students, brought together by BRAC, has tested out simple, cheap design solutions to rebuild Dhaka's two biggest slums after fires destroyed some 650 homes in late 2016, affecting 2,500 people.
The new approach aims to tackle the ever-present threat of fires in Dhaka's crowded slums, while improving living conditions for residents.
But in a city where less than 10 percent of areas are planned, altering the slumscape is a tall order.
A team of volunteer architects led by Aforza Ahmed of J.A. Architects works with a home owner in Korail slum, locating his home on a map drawn up by them in Dhaka, Bangladesh. HANDOUT/J.A. Architects Ltd
LACK OF LAND RIGHTS
One major challenge is working out what is feasible for slum residents who have no legal rights to the land they live on.
Ashekur Rahman, an urban programme specialist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bangladesh, said the transitory existence of many slum dwellers is a major impediment to keeping them safe from threats like fires in the longer term.
Many are seasonal migrants who split their time between villages and cities, limiting their access to services and permanent accommodation.
Government providers worry that improving services in informal settlements could attract more migrants from rural areas, Rahman said.
"Weak and ill-defined land tenure and property rights pose big threats to resilience-building and are considered the underlying causes of the poverty and vulnerability of the urban poor in Bangladesh," he added.
Sandwiched between Dhaka's upscale Gulshan and Banani neighbourhoods, Korail - which sprang up in the 1980s - sprawls over some 170 acres of land owned by three government ministries.
It is home to as many as 100,000 residents, including rickshaw drivers, domestic helpers, garment workers and small traders.
Fire is just one of the threats inhabitants face on a daily basis, which include eviction, drugs, crime, police harassment and extortion.
After digitally mapping the fire-hit areas, the design team led by Dhaka-based J.A. Architects Ltd consulted with residents who each agreed to give up a tiny amount of space to widen access roads and narrow lanes so that fire trucks and ambulances could enter if another blaze breaks out.
The group of experts was appalled by the unhygienic conditions in the slums. In summer, the tin shacks are "like ovens", said Shamim Hossain, a manager with BRAC's urban development programme.
To improve living conditions, the team made modifications to dwellings, such as adding windows, wire netting and transparent plastic to let in air and light.
They also helped rebuild homes in Sattola slum, which suffered a major fire in December 2016 too, destroying 115 homes in just 10 minutes.
Made homeless overnight, residents had to pass more than three cold winter months under the open sky.
MORE AIR, LIGHT
In the slum, which is home to 50,000 people and located on land belonging to the health ministry, residents have since built concrete houses with green tin roofs to reduce losses in the event of a fire - despite the risk of eviction as the government plans to build a physiotherapy college there.
The new design has allowed some homeowners to afford a luxury - a communal area – as well as an upstairs.
In the family space, where children play and adults gossip while sipping tea, Rabeya Akhter recalls how she clambered out of the house when her brother-in-law shouted "Fire! Fire!" just after midnight on December 12, 2016.
Her family lost valuables worth about $600 when their TV, PC monitor, wardrobe and other furniture burned to ashes.
They managed to get credit of more than $3,600 to rebuild their home, mostly from Dhaka-based micro-finance institution DSK.
Shah Alam, who co-owns a two-storey home, has used metal netting for corridor walls and plastic roofing in parts to ensure it is ventilated and well-lit – an idea partly his own and partly from the volunteer architects.
Like Akhter's father-in-law Siddiq Howladar, 70, who moved to Dhaka from the southern island-district of Bhola, many of Sattola's residents migrated from coastal Bangladesh, where land erosion and floods are common, poverty is pervasive and jobs are rare.
Dhaka alone attracts an estimated half a million rural migrants seeking employment each year, according to the World Bank. Almost one-third of its population of 18 million lives in slums.
Government figures show some 20,000 fires occur annually in Dhaka. But the cause often remains unknown, and the blazes get little international attention.
Residents of the capital's Kalyanpur slum suspected a fire that gutted dozens of homes in early 2016 was started deliberately to remove them from land owned by the ministry of housing and public works, local media reported.
It happened a day after a court order to halt an eviction that had sparked violence between inhabitants and police.
Abu Obaidur Rahman, a lawyer with the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the fire had "accelerated the eviction process", although the Dhaka-based charity had no evidence of who started it.
"Slum dwellers are citizens of this country and they make a contribution to the city," he said. "The government has the responsibility to rehabilitate them."
While the transformation of parts of Korail and Sattola has made residents less vulnerable to fires, the thorny question of land tenure persists.
City councillor Mofizur Rahman described Korail's residents as "temporary" and said they would have to vacate the land when the government starts to build an IT park there.
Under a new programme to reduce urban poverty, the UNDP aims to resettle people on unused or under-used government land, and broker medium-term tenure deals between private land owners and tenants, said the agency's Rahman.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of the Power and Participation Research Centre, a Dhaka-based think-tank, believes urban policy must become "humane" so that slum dwellers can get more secure land tenure.
Supporting reconstruction in the fire-hit slums was the "right decision" but it did not advance residents' legal rights, he noted.
For now, Korail and Sattola are "more liveable than before", said BRAC's Hossain.
"It's a start," said architect Sultana. "Others can follow it."
BRAC on Saturday said it has set a target to support 4.5 lakh ultra-poor families across the country by 2020 to complement government's effort to eradicate extreme poverty.
BRAC's endeavor in this regard was projected at the 'Development Fair 2018' that the world's largest non-government organization took part. The three-day fair rounded off today at the National Shilpakala Academy in the city.
BERAC showcased its range of programmes implemented for poverty alleviation and development at the fair. Among its programmes, Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) was specially focused in the event for its dedicated work since 2002 in stamping out extreme poor.
Brochures describing the TUP programme activities, leaflets explaining its role in the achievement of country's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and booklets profiling the families successfully graduating from ultra-poverty were among the materials displayed at the BRAC stall at the fair. Through its TUP programme BRAC provided assistance to over 17 lakh families in 47 districts from 2002 to 2017 to recover from ultra-poverty.
In 2018 TUP is being implemented in 210 upazilas of 43 districts, BRAC said on Saturday. Current allocation under the programme for each participating family is roughly Tk. 40,000.
When the World Bank declared Bangladesh as a lower-middle income economy in 2015, some of us can remember its first president in Bangladesh Just Faaland and his joint work with economist Richard Parkinson. The duo saw what a difficult path awaited the new nation in The Test Case for Development (1976):
'It must be the fond hope of most educated people that man can control events and his own future. There is little to give credence to that view in the situation of Bangladesh … Nature, not man, is in charge of the situation in Bangladesh … All of this would not matter if Bangladesh were rich in natural resources and under-populated, if it were effectively governed, and if its social order and economic system were geared to growth, but none of these things obtain.'
Four decades after the publication, the World Bank once again discussed Bangladesh, this time for its success in alleviating extreme poverty. In recognition of the success, its president Jim Yong Kim was present in Dhaka for the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October. He observed, ‘Bangladesh has shown the world that a long list of hardships can be overcome… its people have shown that innovation, commitment, setting goals and visionary leadership can accomplish feats that few dared to imagine.’
The chief of the same global body celebrated a change that, forty years earlier, was unimaginable to his predecessor.
As Faaland-Parkinson rightly observed, Bangladesh did not have the adequate base of large-scale industrial and agricultural production or mineral resources of high value for taking the mainstream path to development. The nation therefore cut its own unique path, which closely tied social development with economic progress. Income generation for poor households through small initiatives, earning opportunities for families living in extreme poverty, huge migration from low-income groups for wage labour abroad, increasing the involvement of women in income-generation activities, increased disaster preparedness, around hundred per cent children enrolled into primary schools, reducing the size of the average family, a number of outstanding successes in health - including eradication of polio and smallpox, prevention of night blindness, controlling diseases like tuberculosis and diarrhoea – all these apparently smaller and unremarkable successes and achievements brought a sustained change in the life of millions of people living in poverty. The combined impact of the changes is reflected in national progress indicators, as well as in fulfilling the country’s MDG target of bringing poverty rate down to 29 per cent three years before the target.
The innovations and initiatives of normal citizens have played the most significant role in these changes. The government’s long-term policies and their fairly consistent spending in areas such as education and health have provided support, and not-for-profit social and development actors and the private sector have also played a big role. NGOs particularly played a crucial role of bringing innovation into rural poverty reduction, and in establishing platforms through which people living in poverty, particularly women, can access basic services and exercise rights.
Having reached this juncture, where Bangladesh is poised to make an even greater leap towards economic prosperity, some have argued whether NGOs have anything more to do in this country. The reality is NGOs are no less important in current Bangladesh than they were any time in the past. The USA, with all its prosperity, has more than 1.5 million active not-for-profits. With socio-economic changes, the nature of social problems will change shape. The key challenges we see now in Bangladesh are rapid urbanisation, quality education for the 21st century, climate change, youth employment, increasing inequality, huge lifestyle changes and their psychological consequences. The impact of these factors will only intensify in the coming years, and the nation will need to be adequately prepared to tackle them. Not-for-profit social organisations will play a big role in tackling them.
Financing has always remained one of the biggest challenges for NGOs. A large portion of NGOs draw their finance from international donors. Bangladesh’s preferred status as a darling country of choice by donors is changing with her steady progress though. In parallel, new crisis pockets which increasingly demand humanitarian relief are emerging globally. Donor assistance is now often directed to communities struggling with more dire situations such as war and famine. How can then Bangladeshi NGOs finance its activities with such dire constraints? Two major way-outs in this regard are:
BRAC's social enterprises have proved that intelligently-developed commodities and services can play a strong role in social good. Aarong, BRAC’s flagship social enterprise initiative, not only involves 65,000 artisans across the country, but its training centres have also provided a platform for thousands of skilled people to become independent entrepreneurs for the last four decades. Aarong’s profits are partly channelled for the growth of the enterprise and partly support BRAC’s other social development initiatives.
The basic concept behind social enterprises such as Aarong is to develop and sell high-quality commodities and services for the richer segments in society, and then spend the surplus on social development causes. NGOs facing a curb in donor funding will need to explore areas where market gaps exist and private sector players are reluctant to get on board because there are not enough profits.
Our government needs to bring NGOs as part of their Annual Development Plan implementation activities and for good reasons. The government's present target is to achieve the status of an upper-middle income country by 2030-31. This will require the per capita income to rise to an ambitious USD 4136. This target has to be combined with the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure equity-based progress. The government has planned the process out in the current seventh 5-year plan. Many challenges make this a tough target to achieve however -- the major ones being reduced donor assistance, bureaucratic hurdles, delayed implementation of projects and a lack of innovative models for solving social problems. Utilising NGOs' capacity of innovation, programme implementation and grassroots mobilisation can be an important tool for the government in ensuring equity-based development.
There are already ample examples of GO-NGO partnerships in our country. The government's partnership with the ICDDR,B and BRAC to spread the oral saline formula to the grassroots is probably the best-known of these. In a more recent example, 23 NGOs are working in a government-led partnership to rid the country of TB.
These GO-NGO partnerships are happening only in the donor funded projects though. It is time to involve the social development organisations in the national revenue funded programmes also.
It is also important to note that NGOs are never an opponent of the government. NGOs, particularly the service-focused ones, are merely a sector that works through the policies and laws and under the guidance of the state in a complementary capacity. Social organisations are able do things quickly, because of the nature of the organisational culture, which the government sometimes finds difficult because of its structure and capacity. On the other hand, most NGOs do not have the capacity of working at a scale as large as that of the government.
It is the centuries-old tradition of working for the common good with a voluntary spirit that lies at the heart of forming NGOs or any other social organisations. Their necessity does not end with whatever great progress a nation or society achieves. The hundreds of NGOs that have been serving Bangladesh's people for decades are expected to continually adapt to the changing realities and needs. The government should also come forward to become part of the solution and embrace them to increase the effectiveness of both parties.
As one of the country's major development actors, our demand is equity-based growth for our country. To avoid the risk of Bangladesh’s economic growth creating massive inequity, NGOs will continue to be relevant. The question is whether we are willing to evolve and are ready to do such partnerships.
Women usually do not drive as rashly as their male counterparts
The number of women driving, in both professional and non-professional capacity, is quickly increasing as employers feel more secure with them.
Brac Driving School in Dhaka has taken up initiatives to train women as drivers for free, who then go on to get jobs different NGOs, other organisations and privately-owned vehicles.
Many women are stepping into the world of driving both as a necessity and as a hobby, said Traffic Police officials, adding that women tend to drive carefully on the road.
Dr. Mushtaque Chowdhury is the Vice Chairperson and advisor to the Chairperson and founder of BRAC. He is also a professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, New York. During 2009-2012, he served as a senior advisor and acting Managing Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, based in Bangkok, Thailand. He also worked as a MacArthur/Bell Fellow at Harvard University.
Dr. Chowdhury is one of the founding members of the two civil society watchdogs on education and health called Bangladesh Education Watch and Bangladesh Health Watch respectively. He is on the board or committees for several organizations and initiatives, including the Advisory Board of the South Asia Centre at London School of Economics, Lead Group for Scaling Up Nutrition Movement at United Nations and is the current chair of the Asia-Pacific Action Alliance on Human Resources for Health (AAAH). He is also the President of the Dhaka University Statistics Department Alumni Association (DUSDAA). Dr. Chowdhury was a coordinator of the UN Millennium Task Force on Child Health and Maternal Health, set up by the former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, along with Professor Allan Rosenfield, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, New York.
Dr. Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health professor of population and family health, was nominated by the U.S.-based Ronald McDonald House Charities for its 2017 “Medical Award of Excellence”. The award is given for outstanding contribution to improve the health and wellbeing of children. [Photo: Dr. Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury] Dr. Mushtaque Chowdhury, who joined the Mailman School in 2004, is also vice chairperson of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) in Bangladesh, which is particularly concerned with poverty alleviation, education, and health. He is the founding dean of BRAC University’s James P. Grant School of Public Health in Bangladesh and also founded the Research and Evaluation Division of BRAC. With over 50,000 full-time staff, BRAC is one of the largest non-governmental development organizations in the world. Dr. Chowdhury is also a board member of South Asia Centre of London School of Economics, president of Asian Action Alliance for Human Resources in Health (AAAH) and lead group member of UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. In addition to his ties to Bangladesh, Dr. Chowdhury has worked internationally in Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, China, and Ethiopia. From 2009 – 2012, he served as senior advisor at the Rockefeller Foundation, Thailand, overseeing the health portfolio of the Foundation in Asia. In 2013, the Lancet published a profile of Dr. Chowdhury. Among the previous winners of the Medical Award of Excellence are former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, former U.S. first ladies Barbara Bush and Betty Ford, Health Minister of Rwanda Dr. Agnes Binagwaho and Queen Noor of Jordan. Currently, the charity is working in more than 64 countries and regions in the world to ensure children’s healthcare and wellbeing. The award will be presented to Dr. Chowdhury at a gala in Chicago on Nov 11. To honor Dr. Mushtaque, Ronald McDonald House Charities will present a grant of $100,000 to a non-profit organization selected by him.
Dr. Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health professor of population and family health, was nominated by the U.S.-based Ronald McDonald House Charities for its 2017 “Medical Award of Excellence”. The award is given for outstanding contribution to improve the health and wellbeing of children.
[Photo: Dr. Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury]
Dr. Mushtaque Chowdhury, who joined the Mailman School in 2004, is also vice chairperson of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) in Bangladesh, which is particularly concerned with poverty alleviation, education, and health. He is the founding dean of BRAC University’s James P. Grant School of Public Health in Bangladesh and also founded the Research and Evaluation Division of BRAC. With over 50,000 full-time staff, BRAC is one of the largest non-governmental development organizations in the world. Dr. Chowdhury is also a board member of South Asia Centre of London School of Economics, president of Asian Action Alliance for Human Resources in Health (AAAH) and lead group member of UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.
In addition to his ties to Bangladesh, Dr. Chowdhury has worked internationally in Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, China, and Ethiopia. From 2009 – 2012, he served as senior advisor at the Rockefeller Foundation, Thailand, overseeing the health portfolio of the Foundation in Asia. In 2013, the Lancet published a profile of Dr. Chowdhury.
Among the previous winners of the Medical Award of Excellence are former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, former U.S. first ladies Barbara Bush and Betty Ford, Health Minister of Rwanda Dr. Agnes Binagwaho and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Currently, the charity is working in more than 64 countries and regions in the world to ensure children’s healthcare and wellbeing.
The award will be presented to Dr. Chowdhury at a gala in Chicago on Nov 11. To honor Dr. Mushtaque, Ronald McDonald House Charities will present a grant of $100,000 to a non-profit organization selected by him.
By Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, 2015 World Food Prize Laureate
"When I began working with farmers struggling with poverty in 1972, I was a young accountant, fresh from a job in the finance department of Shell Oil. I had lofty ideas of how I could help transform our new nation, Bangladesh, which was then one of the poorest countries on earth. I thought that if we could empower the poor by providing services like livelihood training, literacy classes and health and family planning, they would be able to vanquish the extreme poverty and hunger they had endured for far too long.
The world was quite a different place then. Bangladesh had gone through a bloody war for independence, and the world’s great powers were locked in a struggle between freedom and totalitarianism. The Green Revolution was still in its infancy, but we knew the vast promise it held for it had already delivered spectacular increases in cereal crop yields in India, West Pakistan and the Philippines; for this, Norman Borlaug had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970..." Read full article here.
He holds the number 37 position on Fortune’s List of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and has won an incredible number of prestigious awards. He is the founder and chairperson of the world’s largest private development aid organisation, with 100,000 employees in 11 countries and a budget of one billion dollars. He is 81 years old, and his biography reads like an adventure novel. After 45 years, the ongoing success of his NGO called BRAC offers a convincing response to those cynics who declared development aid a thing of the past. His name is Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and De Dikke Blauwe spoke to this architect of poverty reduction during his visit to the Netherlands in mid-June. read more
This article was published in the Daily Observer, Liberia on 1 June 2017
BRAC Liberia recently concluded a two-day nutrition training for twenty (20) leaders in the health and agriculture sectors of six counties, including Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Bong, Bomi, and Cape Mount.
The training was held in Kingsville, Careysburg district, Montserrado County.
According to BRAC-Liberia the training focused on breastfeeding, complementary breastfeeding, malnutrition prevention, and vitamin A deficiencies.
Facia Goah, nutrition focus person for Montserrado County at the Ministry of Health, appreciated BRAC for involving community organizations in the fight against malnutrition.
She added that diet diversification is one of the major challenges to reducing malnutrition in the country.
"Our people are used to eating one kind of food, and parents are encouraging children to eat the same food. However, encouraging people to eat varieties comes with huge collaboration," she said.
The four year project, which became to an end this month, has brought about tremendous impact to the poor farmers in 15 regions in the country.
Speaking at a dissemination workshop on LEAD project organised by BRAC Maendeleo in Dar es Salaam at the weekend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Charles Tizeba praised the organisation for the concerted efforts to improve the livelihoods of Tanzanians.
He called upon various stakeholders to come up with projects to end poverty in various parts of the country and areas which no change yet had been realised.
According to him, boosting those poor farmers in remote rural areas was a recommendable job which other stakeholders should emulate.
“About 18 million Tanzanians are living in abject poverty so efforts are still needed to ensure that we remove them from the poverty line... and agriculture has been seen as a major way to go,” he said.
Tizeba called upon research organisations to invest on new maize seeds that were resistant drought and other climate change impacts.
For his part, BRAC Maendeleo country representative Rakibul Bari Khan said that the LEAD project had for the past four years worked to improve farming skills, facilitate linkages to farm inputs and markets as well as facilitating finance farmers through soft loans and grants.
He said that LEAD project implemented by the organisation was meant to facilitate agribusiness investment in the poultry and maize value chains in the country.
He said through the project, farmers could access both grants and loans and businesses could also apply for capital injections whereby it had disbursed at least USD 8.4 million as loans.
“The LEAD project, now in its fourth year of operation, has successfully facilitated to the formation of a total of 8021 producer groups, 89 agro-dealers have also trained.
The project has also addressed the constraints of high post-harvest losses in maize through establishment of purdue improved crops storage (PICS) bags and trained farmers with improved processing techniques,” he said.