The minister for local government, rural development and cooperatives, Md Tajul Islam, stressed that the urbanisation in Bangladesh should essentially follow the direction our prime minister has given to transform the rural areas into urban spaces. “If we cannot accommodate people migrating into the urban areas we must transform the rural areas into pre-planned urban ones,” he said.
The LGRD minister made these observations in his chief guest’s speech today on Thursday (3 December) at an online seminar on housing and livelihood development of the urban poor communities.
The minister further emphasised that only putting the rising urban population into high-rises will not provide sustainable solutions until the communication is eased, and other problems related to logistics and utilities are taken care of. Therefore, urban resilience is an absolute necessity.
The seminar titled “Pro-poor, climate and disaster resilient urban development: Challenges and opportunities” was organised by BRAC Urban Development Programme (UDP) and attended by 20 city and municipality mayors from around the country.
Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, Professor Dr Akhter Mahmud, president, Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), and Dr Imran Matin, executive director, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, also addressed the seminar, among others. Dr Ainun Nishat, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research (C3ER), BRAC University, moderated the event. BIP, C3ER and BIGD also assisted in organising the seminar.
Professor Ainun Nishat appreciated the municipalities and city corporations of the country for their intent work on their development plans while drawing on own resources to address the growing challenges. He further said, “Empowerment of local government institutions, deliverable activities and social accountability are imperative for pro-poor, climate-resilient and sustainable urban development.”
DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam observed that many problems of the urban poor can be addressed through sustainable slum management in Dhaka city. While he asked for BRAC’s assistance in proper slum management in his jurisdiction, they mayor also stressed the importance of community members’ active involvement in monitoring the quality of service delivery of the city corporation staff.
Satkhira municipality mayor Md Tazkin Ahmed said trained and skilled manpower is essential for a municipality to do quality service delivery to its residents.
BRAC executive director Asif Saleh observed that for creating a robust and sustainable urban area empowerment and resource planning capacities of the local government bodies are two vital issues. “It’s important that the local authorities have been given the power to take actions in solving the local issues. Still there are issues of providing the mayors with planned budgets and required authority to approve action plans that need to be addressed. Though the condition of the capital city has improved from before as its mayors have more authorities now, it must also take place in all the other cities,” he further said.
BRAC has partnered with Handicap International-Humanity & Inclusion (HI) in Bangladesh to launch a pilot disability-inclusive ultra-poor Graduation programme targeting the ultra-poor populations in four districts of Bangladesh. On 24 November 2020, Shameran Abed, Senior Director, Microfinance and Ultra-Poor Graduation initiative of BRAC, and Rajesh Chandra, Country Director of HI signed the agreement in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
BRAC has been committed to strengthening inclusion of people living in ultra-poverty as well as people with disabilities through its Graduation programme, and in 2018 collaborated with Handicap International-Humanity & Inclusion United Kingdom (UK) to bring in disability inclusion in its global programmatic activities.
In this pilot programme, HI will tailor its technical assistance to the specific needs of BRAC’s UPG programme. BRAC will implement the programme targeting 1,200 participants with disabilities or a family member with disability to enhance their socio-economic development. This two-year partnership will cater to the needs of the participants and their households during the 24-months programme cycle.
Terming the partnership between BRAC and HI as a ‘milestone’ in BRAC’s endeavour to make Graduation programme more inclusive to the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, Shameran Abed said, “The strategic partnership will strengthen our collective effort to lift people with disabilities out of ultra-poverty. This will enhance BRAC’s capacity to implement disability inclusive Graduation approach at scale in Bangladesh and globally, and assist respective governments to adapt the approach based on the country context”. Rajesh Chandra from HI also said, “Aligned with its worldwide strategy to ‘leave no one behind’, Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is delighted to extend in Bangladesh its global collaboration with BRAC. This technical partnership will support economic empowerment of people with disabilities in four districts of Bangladesh. HI, along with other organisations of people with disabilities aspires to support the Government of Bangladesh to ensure inclusion of people with disabilities in development”.
Since its inception in 2002, BRAC’s UPG programme has served almost 2.1 million ultra-poor households to achieve socio-economic resilience. Its groundbreaking Graduation approach has provided a proven pathway out of extreme poverty. BRAC’s work in Bangladesh is supported by Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
The World Bank and BRAC today signed a Memorandum of Understanding at an online event to collaborate to improve road safety in Bangladesh.
The event titled ‘Road Safety Collaboration: Reducing Road Fatalities 50% by 2030’ also launched a Road Safety Awareness Campaign along the 48KM Jashore-Jhenaidah corridor as part of the partnership. The campaign will complement the World Bank-supported WeCARE project, which was approved in June 2020 and aims to upgrade the existing two-lane highway, Bhomra-Satkhira-Navaron and Jashore-Jhenaidah, to a safer four-lane highway.
BRAC and the World Bank will partner together to promote safety for women in public transport systems and conduct training and skills building for men and women drivers. BRAC’s driving school’s initiative ‘Women behind the Wheels’ has so far trained approximately 214 women as professional drivers.
Globally, about 1.35 million people die every year in road accidents. In Bangladesh, road crashes are the fourth leading cause of death of children aged between 5 and 14, and 67 per cent of the victims are within the age group of 15-49 years.
"Under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister H. E. Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has taken actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of cutting the number of road traffic fatalities by half within the next decade,” said Honorable Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, Mr. Obaidul Quader, who joined the virtual event as Chief Guest.
“With more awareness and safer behaviors by road users, training of drivers, and better roads, Bangladesh is taking a comprehensive approach for ensuring road safety.”
“Road safety has become an economic and development priority for any country,” said Dandan Chen, Acting Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“We are proud to be part of the government’s commitment to better road safety through a National Road Safety Program. Our partnership with BRAC will reinforce the support to the program for improving road safety in both rural and urban areas in Bangladesh.”
The collaboration will support exchange of knowledge and raise awareness among stakeholders to reduce fatalities and injuries from road accidents. This will help the country adopt interventions based on the Safe-System Approach, including safe roads and safe behaviors, as recommended globally.
Since 2011, under BRAC’s community road safety awareness program, over 1.2 million people have received training on the safe use of roads. In addition, 5,451 schoolteachers and 498,000 school children have received special awareness training on road safety.
Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC, said, “I believe this joint initiative between BRAC and the World Bank will be a big step forward to take the road safety system in the project area to a new level. With the support of the government of Bangladesh and the World Bank, we aspire to take BRAC's community led road safety model across Bangladesh.”
“The government, development partners, non-government organizations and most importantly the citizens need to work together like this in finding more comprehensive long term systemic solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 50 per cent,” he added.
Ahmed Najmul Hussain, director, BRAC Road Safety Programme, said, "I believe that undertaking more such community-driven awareness initiatives for the other highways of the country such as the one to be implemented under this MoU along the Jashore-Jhenaidah highway will substantially help reduce the number of road crashes."
The rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is on an alarming rise as girls are mostly staying home owing to the closure of educational institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bangladesh is among top10 countries in terms of child marriage rate. Moreover, the rate of child marriage has increased up to 220 per cent over the period of July-September during the ongoing pandemic. Experts are concerned that the crisis might deepen if there is a further delay in reopening schools.
Speakers came up with the expressions mentioned above in a digital dialogue organised by BRAC today, 11 October 2020, marking International Day of the Girl. Education minister Dr. Dipu Moni joined the dialogue, “Girls must return to schools,” as chief guest.
BRAC executive director (ED) Asif Saleh, Bangladesh Police Women Network (BPWN) president additional commissioner Amena Begum, rights activist and member of parliament (MP) Aroma Dutta, Rasheda K. Choudhury, ED, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Prof Dr. Sadeka Halim, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Dhaka, social development adviser to British High Commission in Dhaka Tahera Jabeen, and Australian High Commission in Dhaka’s first secretary Simon Barclay also joined the event moderated by BRAC director Nobonita Chowdhury.
Education minister Dipu Moni said “We have reached most of our target students in case of digital classrooms. The standard of classes being taken through televisions has increased. Not only the government, but many non-government institutions are taking online classes. So, it is not mandatory that students will have to go to classes. In many countries, schools have been shut after reopening. We need to consider every aspect before deciding on reopening our educational institutions.”
On girl children, the minister said, “The birth registration process is being digitised at union levels. As a result, parents cannot fake their girls’ age and marry them off early. Important topics such as women’s repression, sexual violence is being included in our curriculum. Not only the COVID-19 crisis, we are repurposing our curriculum to tackle all sorts of challenges.”
BRAC ED Asif Saleh said, “The long closure of schools are forcing our students to forget what they have already learnt. A research in Pakistan shows a five-month closure of schools have forced students backward for 14 months. We need to consider this in terms of our country. Rather than taking a sudden decision, we need constant monitoring to reopen our schools. We can consider reopening schools in districts where the rate of infection is lower. Non-government entities are ready to assist the government in this regard.”
Lawmaker Aroma Dutta said, “Reality must be considered before taking any decision. This is true that we lost a lot during this pandemic. The rate of school drop-out has increased. We need to ensure technological and technical education for students, especially for girls, so that they can ensure their livelihood whenever needed.”
“We, especially our parents, need to change views about our girls. Very often parents force their girls into early marriage. They still believe educating girls would lead to problems for their marriage. We need to change this mentality,” Aroma added.
CAMPE ED Rasheda K. Choudhury said, “School closure has affected both our students and the teachers. This pandemic is acting like a magnifying glass for us. Through this, we can examine all our mistakes and think on our way forward. Before reopening schools, we need to concentrate on the related data and reality.”
She also urged the education minister to introduce incentives in the education sector like other sectors and ensure snacks for students during school hours.
Prof Sadeka Halim said, “Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in women’s empowerment and girl children’s empowerment. If you look at the millennium development goals index, our girls’ enrollment in primary schools was at par with boys. But, child marriage has been instrumental to the drop-out rate of girls.”
“During this covid-19 crisis, we have seen that our education system is closely connected to our livelihood. So, we can’t consider the education system as an isolated phenomenon. We need to think about what can be done for about 43 per cent families who have been forced under the poverty line and these families have a large number of students from schools, colleges and universities,” Sadeka Halim added.
British High Commission’s Tahera Jabeen said, “Schools have reopened in a number of countries. We need a guideline for our children and their families must be included as a stakeholder. The government and non-government and donor agencies must act in this regard”
BPWN’s Amena Begum said, “Many families think what the necessity to educate the girls is. Sometimes parents forcefully marry their girls early. Our conception on what to do was not clear at the beginning of the pandemic. To prevent early marriage people can avail services from police dialing 999. We are working on school programmes to make students aware of this. I thank the education minister for including issues like good touch and bad touch in our curriculum.”
Australian High Commission in Dhaka’s first secretary Simon Barclay said, “There is a role for both boys and the men to support the girl children to have a voice in any space—may be at school, or at mosque or temple or in cyberspace. The men and boys need to speak up to support their mothers, sisters or aunts to participate.
“Staying away from schools already increases the risks of dropping out. In terms of learning losses, when the schools reopen, both students and teachers need to intensify their efforts to address the losses. However, their return should not be at the cost of their life, so health issues must be addressed,” Barclay added.
BRAC has been playing an effective role in eliminating child marriage from grassroots to the national level. The organisation has been working as per its founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed’s direction and implementing various projects on its own and in coordination with various government and non-government organisations to eradicate child marriage.
COVID-19 has forced a large number of women entrepreneurs and women working in the informal sectors to lose their income. As a result, women entrepreneurs and informal sector workers respectively faced social, economic and mental challenges, including domestic violence, lowered buying capacity and stress during the pandemic. However, these women showed resilience to fight back and recuperate from the losses they suffered.
The findings along with a number of recommendations of a study titled "Situation of women. CMSME entrepreneurs and informal sector workers: A rapid assessment and quest for recovery from losses induced by COVID-19 pandemic" were revealed at a digitally organised discussion titled “Women Affected in Workplaces and Businesses” today, on Thursday (17 September 2020).
BRAC Gender Justice and Diversity (GJ&D) Programme, with support from Advocacy for Social Change (ASC) conducted the study to look into the situation of women entrepreneurs in the cottage, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises sector and the workers who are employed in the most vulnerable informal sectors.
BRAC director Nobonita Chowdhury moderated the event joined by KM Abdus Salam, secretary to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, as chief guest. Perveen Mahmud, chairperson of UCEP Bangladesh, Ferdous Ara Begum, chief executive officer (CEO) of Business Initiative Leading Development, Rokeya Rafiq, executive director (ED) of Kormojibi Nari, Economist Nazneen Ahmed, Kohinoor Yeasmin, CEO of Tarango, BRAC ED Asif Saleh, BRAC senior directors Shameran Abed and KAM Morshed joined the discussion as panelist. KAM Morshed revealed the key findings of the survey at the beginning of the discussion.
The BRAC study found 65% women entrepreneurs had no income, while 58% women working in the informal sectors had no jobs between February and June during the government imposed holidays to tackle the onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, women entrepreneurs and informal sector workers respectively suffered 67% and 66% decline in their personal income. Subsequently, these women (90% entrepreneurs and 84% informal sector workers) faced social, economic and mental challenges, including domestic violence, lowered buying capacity and stress during the pandemic.
A total of 1,589 respondents (589 entrepreneurs and 1,000 workers) in 174 upazilas of 28 districts covering all the administrative divisions joined the survey conducted from 8 to 24 July 2020. Of them, 32% are from rural and 68% from urban areas.
The study found one-third (33%) of the entrepreneurs had to shut their businesses and 41% had to lay off their workers during the pandemic. While 86% entrepreneurs mentioned that they could not take any measures for coping with their business-related challenges, 39% informal sector workers mentioned that they had to borrow money from friends and relatives to survive. During this period, 46% of entrepreneurs and 72% workers reported problems in their households and majority of them said they suffered acute mental stress.
It was also found the entrepreneurs each had an income loss of Tk 2,89,605 in their businesses on an average.
The stimulus package announced for enterprises by the government found to have failed for the entrepreneurs as only 29% of them had knowledge about it. Lack of proper knowledge was to be blamed for this and the majority of the entrepreneurs preferred NGOs for credit support to help their businesses.
The social safety net coverage for the informal sector workers (having zero income between February and June) also found to be inadequate as 72% workers in rural and 49% in urban areas reported that they received no assistance either from government, NGOs or private donors.
The silver lining of the survey, however, was that women entrepreneurs and informal sector workers revealed resilience and only 1% of them said they were planning to leave their previous work or businesses.
Majority (83%) of informal sector workers now expects cash support, while 79% entrepreneurs want credit at easier terms and lower rates of interest to fight back. They also recommended dedicated stimulus packages for women and suggested declaring gender-related services as essentials. Most of the respondents also stressed the need for skills development training both for entrepreneurs and workers.
What the panelists say:
Addressing the discussion, chief guest KM Abdus Salam said the government is bringing about strategic changes in forming different policies.
“Agriculture, industries and other sectors are receiving massive stimulus packages. Karmasangsthan Bank and some other banks are now disbursing loans. We expect the real picture of poverty will be changed by December and we will be able to fight back again,” Secretary Salam added.
Economist Nazneen Ahmed highly appreciated the fact that the survey prioritised cottage, micro and small enterprises and workers involved in these sectors.
“Specific household surveys on entrepreneurs and workers will obviously bring out the actual scenario. If needed, NGOs can be brought in to distribute the stimulus package among those who actually need assistance to tackle the crisis,” she said.
BRAC ED Asif Saleh said, “If we are determined to overcome the crises we have been facing in the past four to five months, the country will definitely move ahead from its present state. We need to ensure issues such as reaching timely assistance to places where those are needed, stopping violence against women and preventing school dropouts.”
Our government, social organisations and NGOs need to work together to ensure that marginalised groups like women do not get rather more marginalised in this crisis, Saleh added.
BRAC senior director Shameran Abed said, “Women entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises don’t usually get loans from banking institutions. Those from micro enterprises don't even get the chance to knock banks for loans. NGOs need to work in these aspects, but they too have their limitations. That is why we need to find solutions to these problems through a joint effort between public and private sectors.”
Perveen Mahmud, chairperson of UCEP Bangladesh, said, “We need to arrange skills and capacity building training for women so that they can bring changes to their business management to survive the New Normal.”
Business Initiative Leading Development CEO Ferdous Ara Begum said, “I do not think there has been any specific survey involving such a large number of specific sectors, especially cottage and micro-industrial entrepreneurs, during the pandemic. There are various hurdles, but as we have scopes to discuss with 13 secretaries during inter-ministerial consultation meetings at the Prime Minister's Office, we will talk to them especially on the suggestion of providing loan facilities without any collateral for cottage and micro and small entrepreneurs.”
“Our organisation thinks that the rules for lending also need to change for cottage, micro and small entrepreneurs. Bangladesh Bank has also taken some initiatives in this regard recently as these are the sectors that employ about one and a half crore people,” Ferdous Ara Begum added.
Rokeya Rafiq, executive director (ED) of Kormojibi Nari, said, “Although there is no major public-private partnership to help informal sector workers, it is seen that they themselves are trying to survive on their own initiative. They are surviving by changing their professions, working for lowered wages, having only basic diets, giving up on nutritious foods, and saving on the cost of educating their children. We need to help them get back to their previous lifestyle.”
Tarango CEO Kohinoor Yeasmin said, “Many export-oriented businesses have started to turn around again. For example, producers of jute products were the worst affected, but now there is a lot of demand from abroad for jute products as those are considered environment friendly. However, most of the Bangladeshi producers do not export their products. We need to make arrangements for them through public-private initiatives to be connected to the foreign market instead of being dependent only on the local market.”
Maintaining physical distance difficult in public places
Mask causes discomfort, stuffiness
The majority of responses, 61.10 per cent, received in a recent online opinion poll viewed that many people cannot maintain safe physical distance in public spaces during COVID-19 pandemic even if they want to as others around them do not follow the rule. According to 67.40 per cent responses, wearing masks causes discomfort and heat stress, while 20.90 per cent mentioned stuffiness and difficult breathing. While 72.60 per cent viewed regular hand washing as beneficial, 6.10 percent said they simply can't remember to wash hands.
The findings of the online opinion survey, jointly conducted by BRAC and the daily Prothom Alo in association with Lifebuoy, were revealed in a digitally organised media briefing today, on Thursday (June 27, 2020). Unilever Bangladesh marketing director Afzal Hasan Khan, BRAC associate director Dr Morseda Chowdhury, and Prothom Alo special correspondent Shishir Moral joined the event moderated by Prothom Alo special news editor Shawkat Hossain.
A total of 320 thousand and 71 responses were received in the survey conducted from 31 July to 18 August (2020). The survey comprised 10 questions, five of which were on wearing masks, four on hand-washing and one on social distancing practices.
Mushtaq Hossain, former chief scientific officer, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said, “Novel Coronavirus was first detected in our country in March and now it’s August when it is not possible for us to sit at home anymore. We have to run our daily life while maintaining reasonable behaviour and taking effective measures. The public awareness campaign with messages about health safety need to continue. Hand washing stands with soap and water should be placed where necessary, while adequate diagnosis and quarantine facilities have to be ensured. We also need sufficient numbers of volunteers in every neighbourhood to ward off the social stigma around COVID-19 infection. Such opinion polls will help us have a better picture of what’s going on in the field.”
Unilever Bangladesh marketing director Afzal Hasan Khan said, “As a brand Lifebuoy has a mission to save lives. For years and years we have been working to prevent the spread of contagious diseases by helping people maintain their hygiene. From that obligation we have joined BRAC and Prothom Alo in this initiative.”
BRAC associate director Dr Morseda Chowdhury said, “BRAC has stood by the people of Bangladesh with its army of staff since pandemic broke out. We have been working across the country with holistic measures comprising a mass campaign of personal health safety measures to raise public awareness, food and cash assistance for poor and unemployed households and other activities. We have directly provided services to 79 million people since the pandemic had begun. Such surveys are helpful in preventing COVID-19.”
Prothom Alo special correspondent Shishir Moral described at the event his field observations about the country’s corona situation and remarked, “The general public are not taking this danger quite seriously, but lack of rigorous surveillance of the situation may bring much more suffering than we have experienced till now.”
In responses to a question on how masks can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, 85.20 per cent viewed that wearing masks properly helps prevent respiratory droplets of sneeze and cough carrying the virus from travelling into the air, while 8.70 per cent maintained masks prevent contaminated air from entering lungs. But, 5.40 per cent responses did not simply believe that masks can reduce the risk of COVID-19.
Many responses (35.50 per cent) showed respondents washed their hands for 3-5 times the day before they participated in the survey. While 25.60 per cent respondents washed their hands more than 10 times the previous day, 27.70 per cent washed hands for 6-9 times. Alarmingly, 9% responses show they washed hands only 1-2 times.
On hand-washing habits, 38.40 per cent responses deemed forgetfulness as the biggest hurdle to wash their hands regularly. For 44.90 per cent responses unavailability of soap and water when and where necessary was the reason, while around 6.70 per cent responses said they could not wash hands regularly because soap is too costly. Another 9.20 per cent mentioned lack of time as the cause. According to most (90.10 per cent) of the responses, the standard 20-second duration rule to wash hands should be followed. However, 4.6 per cent said the standard duration should be 10 seconds.
According to 30.10 per cent responses, lack of space mainly bars people from keeping safe physical distance of 3 feet in the public spaces. However, 61 per cent responses maintained that they cannot keep the required distance as others do not always follow the rule. Meanwhile, 8.10 per cent said they just forget they should follow the safe distance rule while in a public place.
BRAC has been running 97 booths across Bangladesh for the last six months with its own funding to assist the DGHS (Directorate General of Health Services) in COVID-19 testing.
BRAC has been reaching out to donors and partners to mobilise resources. BRAC has very recently secured a donation from The Global Fund, which will enable us to keep these booths open till 31 December, 2020.
BRAC is committed to continue to support the Government and the people of Bangladesh in any national crisis. It will continue to play a key role in the pandemic response and recovery, to the best of its ability and with support from the donors and partners.
BRAC will assist 50 thousand severely flood affected families with BDT 100 million (10 crore) with each family receiving BDT 2,000 as cash assistance.
The assistance will be given to families in 15 worst-flood hit upazilas in seven districts namely, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Bogra, Serajgonj, Jamalpur and Sunamganj. The money will be sent through bKash mobile money operator.
Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, said, "BRAC has always stood by the people hit by natural calamities. Our staff gave relentless services in the areas hit by Aila, Mahasen, Amphan and other cyclones in the past. We are committed to stand by people seriously affected by this year's flood and give cash assistance which will help them meet their urgent necessities."
Having given a general call for assistance for the flood-hit people, the executive director further said, "We are also calling on individuals and institutions to extend their generosity towards these families in distress. BRAC has taken up an initiative to collect funds so that more families can be reached with assistance."
4.7 million people in 31 districts have been affected by flood this year with Jamalpur having most of its region inundated. So far, 41 people have died, mostly by drowning. Nearly one million households are waterlogged. Around 90 thousand people with around 76 thousand cattle are staying at emergency flood shelters.
BRAC continues its response with different initiatives since the beginning of the flood this monsoon. Early warning messages were sent through four community radio stations, social media platforms and its field staff in the remote and worst hit regions, by incorporating COVID-19 measures. Dry food and oral saline packets were distributed to the waterlogged families in Islampur and Dewanganj upazilas of Jamalpur. BRAC also installed sanitary latrines adjacent to the flood shelters at Porsha upazila in Naogaon district. Also assistance was reached to the worst suffering families in Kurigram from a fund contributed by Greta Thunberg Foundation.