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BRAC starts antigen testing in 9 cattle markets in the capital

BRAC has launched antigen-based Covid-19 rapid testing in nine cattle markets under the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) from today on Sunday (18 July). The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) is providing necessary support to set up one Surokkha corner in each of these cattle markets where BRAC staff is carrying out the sample collection service. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) of the Government of UK is supporting BRAC and DGHS in this effort.

DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam inaugurated the operations of Surokkha corners at the cattle market at Sayeednagar in Bhatara about 11am this morning. Dr Mirna Zaman, manager technical of BRAC’s Health, Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP), was present, among others at the event. She informed the mayor about the different aspects of this initiative.

Starting from today the service will continue till 20 July (Tuesday), the previous day of Eid, and will be available from 8am to 8pm. Anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms like fever, dry cough, fatigue, sore throat and respiratory difficulties, or has been in contact with a confirmed Covid patient, is eligible to undergo the test through Surokkha corners. One has to pay the fee fixed by the government to get the service. Prior registration is not required to give the samples. Each of the Surokkha corners will be able to collect and analyse 150 samples a day.

If the result of a sample analysed via antigen testing comes positive i.e. detects the presence of novel coronavirus, the service seeker will be notified within 30 minutes. Results of a positive patient tested via antigen testing will be uploaded to the website within 3-4 hours.

The nine cattle markets to have these Surokkha corners are: The open space inside the Section-3 of Block-E of Badda Eastern Housing (Aftabnagar), open space adjacent to Kaula Shiyaldanga, open space adjacent to Shahinagar housing (residential) project at Uttarkhan Moinertek, open space from Brindabon to north of BGMEA in Uttara Sector-17, temporary cattle market in Bhatara (Sayeednagar), Rajdhani Housing adjacent to 40-feet Road in Basila Mohammadpur, open space of Shopnodhara housing and Basila Garden City; open space owned by Salam Steel Ltd and Jumuna Housing Co to the north of and adjacent to 300ft Road under Ward-43 and Gabtoli cattle market in Mirpur.

Mayor Atiqul Islam said at the inauguration event, “This is a truly praiseworthy initiative from BRAC at this crisis moment of the pandemic. We are calling on other organisations also to come forward with initiatives as much as they can afford.”

Currently in Bangladesh, for Covid-19 diagnosis RT-PCR tests are done for the majority of samples that take at least 24 hours to deliver results. As antigen tests can deliver results only in 30 minutes, BRAC expects that this method will add pace to the government’s Covid-19 testing operations.

Director of BRAC Health, Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP) Morseda Chowdhury said, “The cattle markets set up for Eid-ul-Azha are among high risk spots for Corona virus transmission due to mass gatherings. BRAC has joined Dhaka North City Corporation in this effort to reduce the level of vulnerability. We are distributing masks as part of our awareness campaign. The overall risk of contracting the infection will reduce when people who have already contracted Covid-19 will be identified through antigen testing.”

Responding to the government’s call in covid-19 prevention campaign, BRAC’s walk-in kiosks have been collecting samples from the suspected patients since March 11 last year, among which 41 are currently in operation. Additionally, BRAC has been offering antigen-based rapid testing through 16 booths in Dhaka and Chittagong since 24 April this year.

Dr Tasnim Jara joins the effort, calling on others to come forward

BRAC initiates “Dakchhe abar desh”, calling all to stand by the people who lost their earnings amid the community transmission of the delta variant of Coronavirus and consequent lockdown. A contribution of BDT 7.50 crore (75 million), half of which comprises a one-day salary donation from the BRAC employees and the other half is matched from BRAC’s own fund, will be distributed to 50 thousand selected families. Each family will receive BDT 1500 which will enable them to buy essential food and other emergency necessities for two weeks.

The initiative was announced today on Wednesday (14 July) mentioning that the distribution of the money will start from 18 July Sunday. Nineteen districts exposed to high risk of Covid transmission and under strict lockdown will be prioritised in this initiative. The families to receive the assistance are being identified by the skilled field staff of BRAC following a rigorous process. Families with elderly members, pregnant and lactating mothers, persons with disabilities, families dependent on women’s earning, ultra poor households and those who have not received assistance from other sources will have the priority in this initiative.

Responding to the call of the Honourable Prime Minister, besides the government agencies, BRAC and many other non-governmental and privately owned organisations have been running such assistance programmes since last year. To continue the effort, BRAC is coming forward to stand beside 50 thousand families in the first phase.  But this contribution is simply inadequate compared with the thousands of families suffering in dire situation. The nation needs both institutions and individuals to come forward. “Dakchhe abar desh” will serve as a platform in this regard and will encourage both individuals and organisations to make contributions. Details of the initiative are available here: https://www.brac.net/dakcheabardesh/

Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC, said, “The battle against Corona is long-term and tough. It has to be fought and won together. We have plunged in the fight with everything we have, to build community resilience across the country. BRAC is active in the field with over 1 lakh (100 thousand) fearless field staff, health workers and volunteers, building skills, raising awareness about health and hygiene, distributing free masks and providing emergency assistance. We are committed to supporting the government and our people at every step of the journey.”

“Both the public and private sectors have to come together to see this crisis through. I will request all able individuals and institutions to join the “Dakchhe abar desh” platform,” he added.

Grameenphone partnered with BRAC in 2020 in its effort to provide emergency assistance to the affected families and they have also given commitment to join the initiative this year.

Healthcare non-profit “Sahay” has joined this initiative. Dr Tasnim Jara, a founder of this non-profit and a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford has already joined the movement. A recipient of the “Vaccine Luminary” award by the British government and currently working at the United Kingdom’s government healthcare system NHS, Tasnim Jara said, “People who live just on their daily wages confine themselves to their home not only for their own safety but to ensure others’ safety also. Their sacrifice is not only for their own sake, but for the sake of all of us. It is therefore all of our responsibility to lessen the terrible hardship they are in.” Through BRAC Sahay will assist more than 65 families and motivate others to come forward.

BRAC hopes that more individuals, institutions and partners will join this initiative. Details for sending contributions:

Name of bank account: BRAC
Account number: 150120-2316474001
Bank Name: BRAC Bank, Gulshan 1, Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka

Bkash account: 01730321765

Last year BRAC employees donated their one-day salary as emergency food support. Under that initiative BRAC, Grameenphone and other partners came together to provide emergency assistance to 3 lakh 65 thousand (365,000) families, with BDT 1500 received by each family.

One-third of female employed youths are jobless as Covid-19 impacts

More women lost jobs, had a harder time finding another job, and had a much slower income recovery amid Covid-19 in Bangladesh. A third of the young women employed before the pandemic in the country were out of jobs in January 2021. The rate is three times higher in women (29%) than that of young men (11%).

The female youths who again found a job later, income recovery has dropped only 10% for male youths while it is 21% for female youths in January 2021.

The data mentioned above was presented by Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), in a webinar organised today on Sunday, (11 July 2021).

Respondents in the study pointed out that private tutoring, handicrafts, factory jobs, tailoring and light engineering are among the areas in which more young women used to find employment conventionally, but again these are among the hardest hit economic areas in the pandemic. The respondents also think that recovery of these particular areas will be tough and take time even when the pandemic is over, making it difficult for female youths to come back to paid employment.

The BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and BRAC’s skills development programme (SDP) hosted the webinar titled ‘Building a resilient ecosystem for women in the skills sector: challenges and prospects’ to celebrate World Youth Skills Day (July 15).

Highlighting the survey findings, Dr Matin said so many working women remaining out of paid work for such a long period may cause many to permanently leave the job market, which may further reduce the already low rate of women’s labour market participation.

Covid shock may threaten to undo much of the progress made around women’s empowerment unless corrective measures are taken, he said.

Speaking at the webinar, speakers emphasised on greater awareness on the importance of technical and vocational education, and training and development of other skills relevant to both local and global economies.

BIGD in collaboration with SDP has conducted a number of studies identifying the sustained beneficial impact of skills training on women’s economic independence. Speaking on the possible interventions, a panel of development professionals shared their insights, highlighted the importance of adopting proper implementation strategies, and stressed that the evidence-based findings from different relevant studies need to be taken into view in building a resilient ecosystem for women in the area of skills development.

Joydeep Sinha Roy, head of operations of BRAC SDP, presented findings from SDP’s implementation experiences over the years at the event.

The presentation pointed out that culture and traditional gender roles, gender stereotyping, lack of career guidance, safety concerns particularly fear of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, family responsibilities, and availability of quality apprenticeship occupations are the major barriers for adolescent girls’ and young women’s access to skills learning.

To bring change in the sector, Joydeep presented SDP’s incremental approaches - enterprise development training, entrepreneurship training, employability training, classroom training and apprenticeship training.

The presentation recommended more awareness about skills training both at the individual and household level, access to the labour market through skills training, raising awareness to change perception towards women, enabling a women-friendly environment in the labour market, and access to jobs and retention to improve the scenario.

Following the presentation, Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, current in-charge of BRAC Skills Development Programme moderated a discussion also attended by BRAC’s Gender, Justice and Diversity Programme director Nobonita Chowdhury, International Labour Organization’s programme officer (M&E) for Skills 21 Project Tahmid Arif, and Natore-based Neda Society’s executive director Jahanara Beauty.

BRAC’s Gender, Justice and Diversity Programme director Nobonita Chowdhury emphasised bringing change in designing proper interventions. “Instead of designing interventions separately, we need to focus on making integrated interventions in line with mainstreaming women empowerment in different sectors.”

ILO programme officer (M&E) for Skills 21 Project Tahmid Arif said, “Changing mindset is crucial not only for skills training of female youths, but also for their employment. Conducting training is not enough. We also need to make sure those who receive training also get an employment opportunity and the opportunity has to be sustainable.”

Highlighting the harsh impact of Covid-19 on the female workforce, Neda Society ED Jahanara Beauty said, “During the pandemic many employers opted to keep male ones instead of female youths in informal sectors. As many women had to leave their job, it impacted not only their income or employment but also their surrounding situations. There was sharp decline in their savings, while violence against women increased and incidents of child marriage rose drastically.”

Shameran Abed has been appointed the new Executive Director of BRAC International (BI), one of the leading development organisations in the world, with effect from August 1, 2021.

As Executive Director, Shameran will oversee and guide BI’s strategies, programmes and organisational development for scaled impact and sustainable growth, contributing to BRAC's Global Strategy to reach 250 million disadvantaged women (and their dependents), youth, and people living in poverty by 2030. He will also continue to lead BI’s microfinance operations and oversee the Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI).

“The Board of BRAC International is confident that Shameran is the right person to steer BI at this time, driving innovation and positive transformation while ensuring continuity. We believe Shameran’s extensive experience at BRAC and his strong strategic and collaborative skills will help us to further align our goals and objectives to achieve the vision of our late founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, to make BRAC a global force for poverty eradication and empowerment of the poor,” said Irene Khan, Chair of the Supervisory Board of Stichting BRAC International.

Shameran joined BRAC Bangladesh in 2009 and BRAC International in 2012, and has been instrumental in bringing BRAC’s flagship programmes of microfinance and ultra-poor graduation to global scale. Under his leadership, BI’s microfinance portfolio has seen impressive growth and a renewed focus on client impact. Since 2016, Shameran has also led BRAC's ultra-poor graduation work and played an instrumental role in setting up the UPGI to spearhead global advocacy and provide technical assistance to governments and other organisations.

Shameran also comes with significant Board experience on several non-profit and corporate entities, including the boards of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), BRAC Bank and bKash.

“As we confront unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic, we are reminded once again of the urgent need to build resilience and create sustainable pathways out of poverty for the world’s most marginalised,” commented Shameran. “BRAC holds a truly unique position, as an organisation from and for the Global South, to continue to demonstrate the same commitment and tenacity in designing and delivering practical, scalable, community-led solutions as we have done for almost 50 years. I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to lead BRAC International at this critical juncture, working alongside thousands of fearless co-workers and with millions of programme participants, whose courage and enterprise inspire us every day to accelerate and further amplify our impact.”

Shameran holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Hamilton College in the United States and is a qualified Barrister in the UK.

Shameran succeeds BI’s current Executive Director, Dr Muhammad Musa, who will step down on July 31.

BRAC and Bangla Trac sign MoU to promote app for aspiring expatriates

BRAC will work to promote an app recently developed to digitally facilitate the process of migration for those aspiring to go abroad for work. The Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment and private concern Bangla Trac Group have launched this mobile app “Ami Probashi” to make overseas employment related services easier. BRAC Migration programme and Bangla Trac have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure that the app makes a vast reach among aspiring migrants to procure correct information about the different steps of migration procedures. 

BRAC executive director Asif Saleh and Bangla Trac director Namir Ahmad signed the agreement on behalf of the respective parties today on Tuesday, 29 June 2021. Key account manager of Bangla Trac Sharif Uddin Ahmed, BRAC’s senior director KAM Morshed and head of  BRAC’s migration programme Shariful Hasan were present at the signing ceremony, among others.

Expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment minister Imran Ahmad on May 8 inaugurated the app Ami Probashi. Any Bangladeshi interested in going abroad can avail the services offered by the app through registration using his/her mobile number or email address. It takes only five steps to complete the registration. 

Through the ‘Ami Probashi’ app, people wishing to pursue a job abroad can easily get information on online applications, search for relevant jobs, connect to government-approved recruiting agents, get a list of passport offices and medical centers, stages of immigration process, and country-wise regulations. BRAC will engage itself to inform aspiring migrants about the mobile app, taking it to the marginalised communities.

At the signing ceremony, Asif Saleh said migrant workers face different forms of harassment due to lack of authentic information. They get cheated in many ways. “We are working long to make aspiring migrants aware and skilled. They will get authentic information using this app. BRAC will work so that migrant workers can make proper use of this app and access services.”

Bangla Trac director Namir Ahmad said, ‘Ami Probashi’ is an initiative of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment to digitise the full system of the migration process. “This app contains information on all the steps associated with going abroad legally. Users can scan and store necessary important documents including copies of their passports, job approval letters and National Identity Card in the app. The app also offers a list of detailed information and email addresses of the contact persons in different countries in case someone faces a problem abroad. We are expecting to make the app functional through BRAC.”

The app ‘Ami Probashi’ can be downloaded on play store. Following download, users have to install the app and then select a language - Bangla or English. User registration with the app will require an email address or a mobile number. The user will receive an instant code to the number used during registration. The user will have to select at least three countries after entering the code into the app. Although the app has a list of 23 countries including the Middle East, the names of more countries will be available in the “other countries” section.

At the next step, users will provide information on technical skills linked to different sectors. This  section has names of different professions including labourer, cleaner, electrician, driver, chef, construction worker and more. A user will have to select his/her skills and then will be taken to the next stage that requires information on gender. Then, the user will have to provide information on experience on working abroad and educational qualifications, and after that, he/she will be able to access the main app. 

‘Ami Probashi’ app will offer information on the application process, application status including job search and things to do after reaching their destinations. But no other services will be available till the user starts his/her registration process or gets his identity registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) website. In addition, migrant workers can locate the nearest passport office, recruiting agency, district manpower and employment office, medical centre and government technical training centres using GPS services. Clicks on the name or address of the destination will show them the route through the map. The app also offers a checklist for going abroad legally.

BRAC, H&M Foundation to host global conference on RMG sector

A three-day global conference to safeguard the livelihood of the women workers in the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh will begin on June 22, Tuesday. The event titled ”STITCH for RMG global innovation conference” will be held virtually till June 24.

The conference is organised as part of the “Safeguarding through innovation and technology challenge (STITCH)” project undertaken by BRAC and H&M Foundation, a concern of the global giant in the RMG sector H&M Group. The project aims at mapping the road for sustainable growth of the RMG industry through a multi-stakeholder approach.

The conference will bring together industry experts from around the world in a bid to protect the livelihoods of women garment workers caused mainly by automation. Helena Helmersson, chief executive officer of H&M Group, and Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), will attend the conference, among others.

Anyone interested can apply for registration through stitchforrmg.brac.net. The event is free of cost, however, confirmation of attendance depends on availability of capacity. Last date of application is on June 19.

The project, currently a 13-month pilot (from December 2020 to December 2021), is working together with buyers, suppliers, and innovators through a series of cross-sector dialogues to create new avenues for employment of women, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustain their livelihoods in the future dominated by automation.

Although readymade garments still comprise the overwhelming share of Bangladesh’s export basket (around 83% in 2020), the RMG industry is experiencing increasing competition from other nations in the sector as they are progressively opting for automation, offering to the buyers better efficiency and value. It is estimated that around 60% workers in the sector will lose their jobs due to automation by 2041, the majority being women.

The insights and knowledge generated at the conference will be used to curate a global innovation challenge to bring ideas to increase relevant skill sets and enhance safeguarding of the workplace environment for women workers. The winners of this innovation challenge will be nurtured and prototyped under the supervision of BRAC. A fund worth $180,00 will be provided as grants to the winners for pilot implementation.

“In our work together with BRAC we have high hopes to reveal what skills are needed for women in the future garment industry. Our long-term goal is to prepare and equip the women to work successfully alongside artificial intelligence and automation, and by this safeguard their livelihoods. The new technology can significantly improve female participation in economic life and enhance the social autonomy of women. Also, certain technologies might offer women the potential to bypass, or leapfrog, some of the traditional cultural and mobility barriers they face offline. We therefore believe attention must be drawn towards the ways in which innovation and digital tools can be directed towards advancing equality. Only appropriate efforts to skill the female workforce can lessen the negative effects,” says Charlotte Brunnstrom, strategy lead at the H&M Foundation.

Asif Saleh, executive director of BRAC, said, “Women have played a big role in powering Bangladesh’s consistent economic growth. RMG's rise can be singularly attributed to the participation of women in its workforce. As the sector is going through a shift, we can't leave the women behind. Through this project, we hope to mainstream innovations that can re-skill them and also scale up innovations that can make the industry ready for a future which is technology driven and more equal.”

Female employees, persons with disabilities neglected, sexual harassment prevention policies absent in 50pc workplaces

Retailers in Bangladesh are reluctant to hire female employees and persons with disabilities because of safety and security issues and the perception towards women that they have limited capacity to endure physical strain. Only 2% of the retailers are willing to hire persons with disabilities.

Retail employees work for an average of 11 hours a day in a single shift and mostly can avail annual leaves but are not usually granted maternity or paternity leaves. Only half of the workplaces have policies to protect their employees from sexual harassment.

These findings have come in a baseline survey by BRAC, conducted to create employable skills and decent work opportunities for the marginalised youth.

The findings of the survey were unveiled at a webinar titled “The future of skills and employment in the retail sector”, organised by BRAC’s Skills Development Programme (SDP) today on Tuesday (15 June 2021).

The survey also reveals existing skill gaps of the salespersons engaged in the sector. Of the employers 68% said their sales their salespersons are unable to meet the sales targets set for them by the management; 54% stated their salespersons lack communication skills; and 64.6% have mentioned that their sales staff’s knowledge of the products is inadequate.

But the good thing is most workplaces are equipped with safety equipment - 93% in Sylhet, 82% in Chittagong, 72% in Dhaka, and 56% in Khulna. Alongside, 98% of the retailers in Chattogram, 92% retailers in Dhaka, 89% retailers in Khulna and 56% retailers in Sylhet have made arrangements so that their sales staff get enough light, air and safe drinking water.

The findings of this survey were revealed at the event followed by a panel discussion. Organisers said BRAC’s skills development programme is working towards creating employable skills and decent work opportunities for marginalised youth. A retail sales module and a competency standard have been developed under this programme, which is the first retail sales module in Bangladesh to be accredited by the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB).

The survey, conducted under SDP’s “Progressing the retail sector by improving decent employment (PRIDE)” project, interviewed 720 respondents from the retail sector employers and employees based in Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna and Sylhet. Funded by IKEA Foundation and UBS Optimus, the project in partnership with the retail sector and Bangladesh government will create a model to provide sustainable livelihoods to low-income urban youths.

Innovision Consulting Ltd carried out this baseline survey commissioned by BRAC’s skills development programme.

Panelists present at the discussion were Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer, Gemcon Food and Agricultural Products Ltd, and SM Shahjahan, deputy director, Bangladesh Technical Education Board. TasmiahTabassum Rahman, head of business development and strategy (current in-charge), SDP, moderated the discussion.

BRAC currently provides training to the underprivileged urban youths through classroom-based and apprenticeship-based approaches. Of the total learners, 60% are female and 7% persons with disabilities. BRAC has partnered with the private sector to implement the training programme.

Identifying mindset and social barriers as the most important problem in the retail sector, Shaheen Khan said, “There needs to be a cultural and mindset shift for people to come and join in the retail be it management or non-management level. Even though entry-level employees learn fast, there is still a large chunk or group of employees who move quite frequently within the sector that remains a major challenge. The employees need to receive training regularly to gather skills, but it must have to be a continuous process so that the contents of the training are also revised regularly depending on the demand”.

Asif Saleh said, “Potentially employees will not be interested to gather skill if he/she does not get enough incentive despite being skilled. Also, stakeholders need to run campaigns to change the existing perception about the retail sector employment. BRAC and partners can work together on finding out the neediest people and arrange training for them so that potential candidates join the workforce after being skilled which will create a win-win proposition for all.”

BTEB deputy director SM Shahjahan said, “Recruiters must develop a hierarchy showing entry level of a potential candidate and the destination which will discourage recruits to frequently opt for a job switch. If the trained people get preference in entrances, it will help develop a training-oriented culture in the sector. Also, a person must be provided with a certificate after completion of training so that the employer can judge skills while hiring an employee.”

Environmental disaster: Only a handful of people are creating losses for all citizens in Bangladesh

Speakers at a webinar on Sunday urged people not to wait for anyone, rather actively work from their own position for protection of the environment.

They were speaking at a webinar titled “Role of youths in ecosystem restoration”, organized by BRAC climate change programme, to mark World Environment Day.

Like every year, World Environment Day was observed in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world on June 5. “Ecosystem restoration” is the theme of the annual day this year. An ecosystem is a geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms as like biotic or abiotic factors work together to form a bubble of life. Say for example, Sunderbans is a place of rich ecology. Half of the global GDP is depended on the nature and already at least 3.2 billion people are affected because of lost ecosystem services.

As chief guest of the event, Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) said, “There are laws for environment or ecosystem protection in Bangladesh, but those are rarely followed. The country is incurring different losses only because of the interest of handful of people. The youths must bring every issues related to environmental destruction in their neighborhood into attention and notify the concerned authorities about the activities.”

Mirza Shawkat Ali, Director (Climate Change & International Convention), Department of Environment said, “Swedish youth Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, an idol in the climate change movement, has already proved that youths can bring changes, if they want. Many like Greta Thunberg will emerge in Bangladesh if we support the youths in Bangladesh.”

Rakibul Hasan Mukul, Executive Director, of Arannyak, thinks that it will turn into losses than benefits if we destruct ecology in the name of economic development. On the other hand, it will not be logical if we only think about ecosystem protection, because we also have to think about the need of people who are depended on ecosystem. If we can unite everyone involved in the process, only then we can make success in ecological restoration.”

Students from different universities and young professionals from different development and research organisations experienced their views at the webinar. Young researcher Anusree Ghosh said ecosystem of Chalan Beel faced massive loss when the highway was constructed upon it. She demanded proper survey on environmental loss before taking any development project in future.

Presiding over the webinar, Dr Md Liakath Ali, director of the climate change programme at BRAC and BRAC International, and the urban development programme at BRAC, said benefits of protecting environment is larger than what we think.

“Half of the global GDP is depended on nature. An investment of $100,000 to ecosystem restoration can bring benefits of $30,000. Implementation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty and zero hunger can make important contribution to ecosystem restoration,” he opined.

According to United Nations, ecosystem degradation impacts 3.2 billion people worldwide. Loss to economy will be $10 trillion by 2050 if loss to nature continues. The agricultural production will drop by 12% and food price will hike by 30% by 2040 if the ecosystem destruction continues.

BRAC teams up with partners to build community resilience against Covid-19

Distribution of 13 million masks in 35 high-risk districts begins

BRAC has undertaken an initiative to provide Covid-19 related services to people in 35 high-risk districts. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) is actively supporting the identification of priority areas for this effort. It is for the first time in Bangladesh that any civil society partnership will provide Covid-19 services with such a wide coverage. Free distribution of 13 million masks in these districts is underway as the first step to this initiative.

Global Affairs Canada and BRAC are the primary contributors to this initiative, being supported by a consortium of donors and partners including the Australian government.

With a community-driven Covid-19 response and local-level health system strengthening approach, BRAC is partnering with the DGHS, recently formed platform Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Alliance, and United Nations agencies to implement this initiative. A total of 41 local NGOs in the identified districts will act as the implementing partners. BRAC’s executive director Asif Saleh made the announcement at a virtual press conference this morning (Tuesday, 1 June).

BRAC is going to deploy 27,500 community health workers in the selected 35 districts under this effort which will put maximum emphasis on the proper use of masks to ward off the transmission. The other approaches include spreading information and motivation about handwashing with soap and water, maintaining coughing etiquettes and social distancing and vaccine registration. Measures will also be taken to address misinformation and rumours around Covid-19.

The high-risk districts are Mymensingh, Sherpur, Kishoreganj, Tangail, Jamalpur, Gazipur, Narayangonj, Dhaka, Jhenaiadah, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Jashore, Chuadanga, Narail, Khulna, Magura, Brahmanbaria, Cumilla, Habiganj, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Bogura, Joypurhat, Natore, Bhola, Barishal, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Cox's Bazar, Chattogram, Feni, Noakhali, and Chandpur. BRAC also plans to scale up the initiative across Bangladesh if the situation demands so.

Moderated by BRAC’s senior director KAM Morshed, the virtual press conference was also attended by Mushfiq Mobarak, professor of economics at Yale University, and Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation. Dr Morseda Chowdhury, director of BRAC’s health, nutrition and population programme highlighted core components of the initiative in the press conference.

With the rise in the number of Covid cases and rate of deaths, besides the centrally run initiatives in Bangladesh, scaled-up community-level prevention efforts have become imperative at this moment. While the health facilities are struggling to provide essential treatment and care to the patients, many people at the community level are negligent in abiding by the preventive measures and hygiene rules. A scaled up community-driven approach can only address the situation at present as observed by health and behaviour change experts.

During the official announcement of this initiative, BRAC executive director Asif Saleh said, “Community resilience to prevent Covid-19 requires participation from the people of all walks of life, particularly leadership from the local communities. There is no alternative to follow health advisories till all the citizens are vaccinated in the country. Hence we are making an all-out effort to strengthen community resistance against Covid-19 and glad that 41 partner NGOs have joined us in this effort. We urge prominent opinion leaders to join our campaign to bring behavioural change in the community.”

Yale University professor Mushfiq Mobarak said, “Mask usage remains low in Bangladesh, particularly in the public places. A team from Yale University and Stanford University, have conducted a research in 600 unions of Bangladesh, which shows many people are averse to mask use because they lack knowledge about the need to use it, while many others do not wear it as they can’t afford to buy masks. The research also finds that the production of three-ply reusable surgical masks at a low cost is quite possible in Bangladesh. We believe BRAC with its countrywide coverage and strong base of frontline staff will be successful in implementing the initiative.”

Manusher Jonno Foundation executive director Shaheen Anam said, “The inevitable social responsibility arising from the crisis of the pandemic has led us to join this initiative with BRAC along with 41 other NGOs. Our aim is to make people aware of the gravity of the situation and increase their sense of responsibility. Combating the ongoing crisis will become easier if people are aware at every household.”

Earlier, BRAC in partnership with The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) of the Government of UK and under a joint initiative with the DGHS and Community Clinic Trust, piloted a community-driven Covid response and health system strengthening initiative in six districts over the past five months. The success of the pilot has resulted in the initiative for the 35 high-risk districts identified by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). The initiative with three key pillars of interventions, namely, prevention, response to Covid case management, and promotion of vaccination is expected to slow down the spread of Covid-19, help flatten the curve and preserve health system capacity in these districts.

Prevention: BRAC’s observation shows that a decrease in mask use is directly related to an increase in the Covid positivity rate. Hence, the initiative will put a strong focus on ensuring mask use, hand hygiene and social distancing through household education. Community groups will be engaged in awareness activities and rapid response. In addition, local government officials, volunteers and community leaders will be empowered with knowledge on Covid-19 related issues to ensure preventive behaviours at the hotspots such as mosques, transport hubs, markets and shops. Periodic assessments will also be conducted to check the level of behavioural change in the community.

Response: Frontline health workers will lead the syndromic surveillance at the household level. BRAC’s proven community support team (CST ) model will be scaled under this initiative that will work to identify suspected Covid-19 cases by household visits with potential cases to conduct screening. Individuals matching with sets of clinical criteria will be connected to the telemedicine services for further support. These households will also receive information on home management of mild and moderate cases, possible referral points and testing facilities, quarantine protocols and best practices to prevent further spread of infection among the other household members. Follow-ups will also be conducted to ensure quarantine compliance.

Vaccination: BRAC and partners will support the local government health offices for Covid-19 vaccination registration and mobilisation. Health workers and volunteers will actively engage in addressing myths and rumours creating vaccine hesitancy at the community level. Furthermore, vaccination will also be promoted through miking and message dissemination via TV and radio channels, print and online mass media and social media.

Demographic and socio-economic changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic

77% of the returnee migrants struggling to find jobs, child marriages saw 26% jump in two years

Around 77% of the returning migrants in Bangladesh were struggling to find a job between April and November last year because of covid-19 pandemic. Among the migrant households with returnees, 61% had at least one member who lost a job or earning opportunity during the covid-19 pandemic.

More than three-fourth (77%) of the marriages that took place in households during surveyed period had brides who were under the age of 18, which is 26% higher than the national rate of child marriage (51%) in 2018. Child marriages were found to be more prevalent in rural areas (81%) than in urban locations (70%).

These are the outcomes of a research jointly conducted by BRAC, UN WOMEN Bangladesh and the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. The research looks into the changes in demographic, economic, and social environments in secondary towns, peri-urban (upazila), and rural areas brought on by the reverse migrations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Findings of the research titled “Demographic and socio-economic changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic: Challenges of new circumstances” was unveiled at a virtual policy dialogue today morning, Saturday (08 May 2021). A panel of distinguished experts, academics, policymakers, and development professionals shared their valuable insights at the dialogue. They also discussed the policy priority areas identified by the study findings and way forward.

Dr. Shamsul Alam, Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Planning Commission attended the dialogue as the Chief Guest. Representatives from the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM), Dhaka University, the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, UN Women Bangladesh Office, UNDP Bangladesh, and BRAC joined as discussants.

A survey was conducted with 6,370 households during 10-25 December 2020 as part of the study that applied both quantitative and qualitative techniques. The survey considered April-November 2020 as reference period. The study calls attention specifically to the impact of the COVID-19 on internal and international migration, including returnee migrants who were forced to return to their places of origin due to various circumstances during the pandemic.

One-fourth (25%) of returnee migrant households are concerned over repaying their outstanding migration loans, which amount to an average of BDT 76,000 (around USD 900), and a maximum of BDT 700,000 (around USD 8300), the study found. Around 44% reported that they could not find any income-generating work and some of them are managing expenses by withdrawing from savings or using rent from assets.

The surveyed households reported a 58% decrease in monthly remittances received on an average during the pandemic that is in stark contrast with the national reports of higher flow of remittances during this period. However, a plausible explanation lies in previous researches that suggest almost half of the remittances received by the households under normal circumstances are through unofficial channels (such as hundi houses, travelers carrying money, etc.), which were unavailable during the pandemic.

The returnee migrant families will put pressure on the existing limited resources, especially in education and health sectors. The study found that 4.57% amongst the returnee population were school-aged children (age 5 to 16 years). If these children cannot return to their previous schools after the schools reopen, the educational institutions in local host communities will be under pressure. Furthermore, 13.35% of returnees (both external and internal) are above 40 years of age, and 4.56% are above 50 years of age. They have a lesser chance of re-migration, which has significant implications for the health services, especially on the services related to non-communicable diseases.

The female returnee migrants, mostly internal migrants, have been subjected to heightened burden during the pandemic. They identified inability to engage in productive or income-generating work (74%), problems in moving freely in the streets and marketplaces (26.8%), problems in adjusting with local culture and absence of social utilities (20%), and increased burden of household chores and problems in child-rearing and ensuring their education (18%) as major problems faced by them.

In general, the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 left many people jobless, especially in the low-income and informal economy. Around 34% of all surveyed households had at least one member who lost jobs or earning capacity and became economically inactive. Moreover, over three-quarters of sample households (77%) saw a decrease in their average monthly income during the pandemic.

The average monthly savings of households decreased by 62% on average, and household debt increased by 31%, as they depleted their savings and borrowing money to manage their daily expenses. The average monthly expenditure on the other hand fell by only 8.6%.

The study suggests that the expected crude birth rate in 2020 is 20.2 (per 1000 people) in the surveyed households which is higher than the national crude birth rate in 2018 (18.2). The average family size was found to be 4.7, which is higher than the pre-pandemic national average of 4.06 (HIES 2016).

After dissemination of the survey findings, chief guest of the policy dialogue Dr. Shamsul Alam, Member (Senior Secretary), General Economic Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission, said in his speech, “Forced migration created frustration among people, particularly for women. We have to think over how to create economic opportunities for them. We need a recovery plan -- budget is a kind of recovery plan.”

Ms. Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN Women Bangladesh stated, “Even without data, child marriage has been a problem. Migrants are seeing stress in loss of income. Social safety nets need to look into how to support these migrant families e.g. creating more jobs, finding the right kind of skills training.”

Dr. Selim Raihan, Executive Director, SANEM and Professor of Economics, Dhaka University opined, “When we are talking about recovery and coping strategies, these studies are very important. It is now time to involve all stakeholders including people’s representatives, business, led by the government, and talk about economic plus social recovery.

Download: Brief executive summary for policy dialogue

Download: Policy dialogue presenatation 8 May 2021

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