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Thursday, 26 July 2018 00:00

BRAC’s Annual Report 2017 launched

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Investing in next generation and eliminating extreme poverty are at the heart of Bangladesh’s pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and BRAC, the biggest development organisation in the world, has been a strong supporter. Senior officials of the non-governmental organisation said this at the launching event of BRAC’s Annual Report 2017 in Dhaka Thursday (26 July 2018) morning.

At the programme organised at the BRAC Centre Auditorium at Mohakhali in the capital, Dr Muhammad Musa, executive director of the organisation, said BRAC has been playing an important role in supporting the government’s efforts to achieve the SDGs. The organisation has been working to eliminate extreme poverty through its Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) programme since 2002. In 2017, more than 75,000 households have permanently emerged from extreme poverty with assistance from BRAC’s poverty eradication programme. In addition, last year, BRAC provided humanitarian assistance to over 600,000 people from the Rohingya community and the programme is still running.

Dr Muhammad Musa also said, BRAC is focusing on eight areas in its five-year strategic plan covering the period of 2016-2020, namely, eliminating extreme poverty; expanding financial choices of people living in poverty; employable skills for decent work at home and abroad; climate change and emergency response; gender equality; universal access to healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation; pro-poor urban development; and investing in the next generation.

Asif Saleh, BRAC’s senior director for strategy, communications and empowerment, said they had provided skills training and employment assistance to nearly 34,000 youth in 2017. Furthermore, over 3.8 million children and teenagers enrolled in the 44,000 schools and centres of BRAC across the country last year alone.

Having referred to the World Bank data, Asif Saleh further said every year 2.2 million youths enter the job market, but 41 per cent of them are not equipped with necessary education and skill training for obtaining decent jobs. To address this gap in skill education BRAC has set a target to train 400 thousand job entrants by 2020.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018 00:00

Urban Innovation Challenge launched

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Around 55 million people live in the cities and other urban areas of Bangladesh. With the ever increasing pressure of people bound for urban areas the problems in urban living are rising too. Social development organisation BRAC is encouraging and promoting the youths to take on these challenges with creative solutions. With this objective BRAC launched its second 'Urban Innovation Challenge' today on 24 July (Tuesday).

State minister for information communication and technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak opened the programme at the BRAC Centre. Asif Saleh, senior, director, strategy, communications and empowerment, BRAC and BRAC International, moderated the event.

Having called on all to come forward to create scopes for youths to explore their power of innovation, the state minister said that this responsibility does not lies solely with the government.

The government is ready to extend all kinds of assistance to the innovators who are coming forward from such initiatives of the non-governmental actors, he further said, hoping that the innovations by the young people will one day solve all the problems plaguing the life of the urban people at present.

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Savar municipality mayor Mohammad Abdul Gani was present at the programme as special guest. The panel speakers at the event were Tina Jabeen, investment adviser, Startup Bangladesh, ICT Division, Munir Hasan, coordinator, Youth Programme, Prothom Alo, Saif Kamal, founder, Toru Institute of Inclusive Innovation, and Rubana Huq, managing director, Mohammadi Group.

In the 'Entrepreneurs talk' session the speakers were Abu Sayed Al Sagor, chief executive officer, BD Assistant, Farhana Rashid, co-founder, Bhumijo, and Shahriar Hasan Jisun, chairman, Bloodman.

BRAC senior director Asif Saleh said, 'We are intent on providing scope and necessary assistance so that the different innovative ideas for solving urban problems can be translated into social entrepreneurships.' He also called on the investors to take initiatives to nurture the country's young talents.

In this competition event plans for sustainable solutions addressing different urban problems in five categories can be submitted from across the country. The categories are housing, healthcare, safe water and hygiene, renewable fuel resources, and climate change. A jury board, after analysing the merit of these plans, will declare awards in all the categories.

BRAC will grant a period of six months to the winning team to implement their plans with a grant of up to BDT 5 lakh. BRAC will also help the winning teams establish contact with probable investors.

Deadline for submission of applications: 30 August 2018.
To send applications please log-in to: uic.brac.net

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Children living in the coastal and wetland (haor) regions in Bangladesh are 1.5 times more likely to be stunted - one of the findings from a study conducted by LANSA, led by BRAC. The study explores agricultural innovations to fight malnutrition in Bangladesh.

The study identified haors and the coastal belt in Bangladesh, which are geographically distinct from other parts (waterlogged and salinity affected areas, respectively), as pockets of undernutrition. Analysis showed that overall prevalence of stunting ranged from 46.6% in the haor basin to 30.9% in other parts of Bangladesh, whereas the prevalence of underweight ranged from 44.5% in the haor basin to 34.1% in other areas. This is a serious cause of concern for the country.

This was revealed at the concluding seminar for the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) – an international research partnership of which BRAC is a partner. The seminar titled ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in Bangladesh’ was held at the BRAC Centre today, 23 July 2018. LANSA programme is funded by UKaid.

The chief guest at the seminar was Fazle Wahid Khondaker, Additional Secretary (Research) of the Ministry of Agriculture. The seminar was chaired by Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development. Dr Samir Kanti Sarker, director of Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN), Dr Lalita Bhattacharjee, senior nutritionist of FAO, Prof Abdul Bayes, former director of Research and team lead of LANSA BRAC also spoke on the occasion.

Research revealed there is a strong interrelation between crop diversity, diet diversity and nutritional outcomes. It was found that the number of people with malnutrition will decrease if we increase production of diet-diverse and nutrition-rich food items.

The seminar emphasised that there is a need to increase public awareness on these issues. The discussants and participants at the seminar called for the government to take up more initiatives in encouraging farmers to cultivate diverse crops in order to increase nutritional outcomes.

The Additional Secretary Fazle W Khondaker, in his speech, mentioned that the government is working towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Agriculture remains the most important tool to achieve the targets and overall development. However, right now the country’s agriculture is facing major challenges with the adverse effects of climate change, labour shortages, floods and flash floods, severe storms, tidal surges, and other natural disasters.

He said, “Agriculture is directly related to our food and nutrition. So we are working towards sustainable agricultural practices and systems, and food security. To achieve this, all sectors need to work in close collaboration with each other.”

Dr Samir Kanti Sarker said, “There is a need for health education along with the regular education system. Knowledge regarding food is necessary to ensure nutrition outcomes. We need to have an integrated approach towards building this knowledge.”

Dr Imran Matin mentioned that to achieve better nutrition, three things should be focused on among others: the role of access to information, the role of agriculture incentives and the role of food consumption behaviour. It is time to go for interventions and identify cost effective approaches to address malnutrition through agriculture.

A synthesis of LANSA research studies was presented by Barnali Chakraborty, senior research fellow of BRAC’s research and evaluation division. Dr Lalita Bhattacharjee, senior nutritionist of FAO presented a paper on ‘Agriculture and Nutrition: Lessons learned from FAO Projects on Food based nutrition strategies’. Dr Mahfuza Rifat, programme head of BRAC’s health, nutrition and population programme, presented a paper on ‘Nutrition Interventions of BRAC’.

The seminar discussed different approaches to combat malnutrition for the people living in poverty, like, school nutrition/feeding programme, encouraging more consumption of milk, increased food storage, and processing capacity, etc.

The discussants recommended that special programmes should be adopted in response to the special needs of geographically fragile and vulnerable areas of the country.

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The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has awarded its annual development award of 2018 to BRAC for its continued humanitarian support programme for the Rohingya people who have taken shelter in Bangladesh.

OFID, the development platform of the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has been giving this award since 2006.

BRAC has launched the largest civil society response in support of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals of Rohingya community who took shelter in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the incidents of 25 August 2017. BRAC's response programme is meeting the immediate needs of the vulnerable people, while building skills, resilience and awareness that will facilitate their long-term wellbeing as the situation evolves.

The 2018 OFID Annual Award for Development comes with a monetary reward of US$100,000. BRAC will use the award money to provide further support to Rohingya women and children.

Since launching its response activities, BRAC has provided over 660,000 people with at least one form of critical support. It is working closely with the government of Bangladesh, the United Nations, and local and international organisations, and will continue to provide a range of services through its integrated, community-based approach. BRAC has so far mobilised around US$37 million from different partners in its efforts to strengthen the humanitarian work in Cox’s Bazar where the Rohingya people have been given shelter.

The award was presented by Dr Carlos Alberto Patricio Játiva Naranjo, Ecuador’s head of delegation and OFID governor, ambassador and representative to the Vienna-based international organisation.

Accepting the award Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury, the vice chairperson of BRAC, said. "We at BRAC are delighted to accept the OFID Annual Award for 2018."

"This will inspire us and many others to move forward with added zeal and commitment. The monetary award will be used to further support Rohingya women and children," he further said.

OFID Director-General Suleiman J Al-Herbish remarked: "This year’s award aims to help shed light on the Rohingya crisis and recognise one particular organisation for standing strong in the face of injustice." He added that BRAC "empowers the vulnerable and helps them bring about positive change in their lives by creating opportunities."

"Presenting this award to BRAC is consistent with OFID’s approach – through its Grants Program – of responding to the needs of the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, and addressing the underlying root causes of poverty in developing countries," he added.

It is estimated that over 700,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 2017. BRAC has provided lifesaving services at scale in the sectors where it is currently a leading provider, such as water and sanitation, health and child protection, and has contributed substantially to others, including education, shelter and nutrition.

Past winners of the OFID Annual Award for Development include, among others, the Foundation for Integral Development in Guatemala; the Children’s Cancer Hospital in Egypt; and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan.

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The Global Week of Action on Road Safety was observed in 21-27 May this year. On this occasion Child Health Initiative, an international organisation focusing on child health, stressed the importance of reducing road traffic crashes to improve the overall status of public health at the UN World Health Assembly in New York. The organisation also highlighted the issue at the recent conference of International Transport Forum held in Leipzig, Germany. They called on the non-governmental organisations to observe Global Week of Action on Road Safety this year upholding children's right to safe road.

Responding to the call the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety observed the week across the world. As a member of the Alliance BRAC organised a series of programmes during the week call on the nation to work together to improve road safety for our children. FIA Foundation, an international organisation promoting creative initiatives to ensure road safety, supported BRAC in organising these events.

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To observe the week BRAC Road Safety Programme organised drawing competitions for children in schools in and outside Dhaka focusing on the issue of road safety. A signature campaign was also organised in which transport owners and workers, teachers and employees of different government and private organisations took part, pledging that they would do their best to ensure road safety from their respective positions. BRAC social media platforms also ran a campaign with road safety awareness messages and stressing the significance of the week.

For Bangladesh the observance of this week is particularly important because every year a large number of children die and become injured in road traffic crashes. Many of these road crashes occur during their commuting to school. According to an estimate of 2016, every year 5,000 children, with an average of 14 children every day, die in road traffic crashes. Many of these children lost their life while on their way to or from school.

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Employment generation will be the major challenge in the forthcoming national budget of fy2018-19, people responding in a recent countrywide pre-budget survey viewed. To ensure robust national development, they also stressed stronger and effective spending in five areas, namely education, health and medical care, roads building and maintenance, adequate subsidies in agriculture, and establishment of more industrials units and factories.

BRAC and Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) conducted the survey as a part of a study to identify the people's priority areas in the next national budget and review the progress of the implementation of the budget of the outgoing fiscal of 2017-18. The survey was conducted in all the 64 districts with participation of 3,846 randomly selected respondents.

Among the areas and issues the respondents gave most emphasis are: in education sector stipends and allowances for students (25%), supply of books and other education materials (24%), and establishing schools, madrassahs and colleges (18%); in health sector low cost treatment facility (42%), establishing hospitals and clinics (19%), and healthcare for the poor (12%); in agriculture sector supply of farming equipment and inputs in low cost (63%), low interest micro-loans (16%) and marketing facilities for farm produces (5%); in social security sector allowances for senior citizens (35%), shelter for the homeless (17%), and widow allowances (9%); in disaster preparedness sector appropriate measures for timely disaster forecast (47%), health and medical care both during and after disasters (10%), and building embankments to protect lives and resources against floods and storm surges (9%); and in migration sector increasing government assistance at the local level (34%), easy loan facility (21%) and increasing information flow from the government at the village level (20%).

The study report expects that money flow may increase with a reduction in revenue earning in the new budget coinciding with the next general election. Having analysed the budgets and their spending trends, the report said that the budget of fy2018-19 will be an election budget. The revenue earning might decrease, while the government spending will rise during the first six months, leading to an increased internal borrowing, such as borrowing from the banks. The overall situation may have a negative impact on the national economy.

The study also forwards three recommendations, based on a review of the spending of the budget of the outgoing fiscal and people's priorities as reflected in the survey:

  1. Give priority to aligning budget allocations along the social sectors according to the demands of the country's financial development and SDG targets to be achieved by 2030
  2. Strengthen private enterprises' participation under public-private partnership (PPP) in realising big projects, and
  3. Utilise public money and other resources, establish and strengthen transparency in public spending, and ensure timely and proper implementation of public sector development projects to ensure continued socio-economic progress of the country, particularly to effectively deal with the challenges Bangladesh may face in the coming years after it graduates to the club of developing countries from that of the least developed countries (LDCs).

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BRAC recently organised an international level training for the transport drivers of the Bangladesh Navy, focusing on awareness building and behavioural change for safe driving. 22 drivers of the Bangladesh Navy participated in the three-day-long training at BRAC's driving school in Uttara in the capital, starting on 22 April 2018.

The course appropriately combines hands-on training and theoretical knowledge with a special focus on the former.

BRAC undertook the training titled 'Road safety and safe driving training', in short 'Surokkha', in 2014, realising that raising awareness and capacity building are critical in reducing the extremely high rate of road crashes in Bangladesh. In this initiative, BRAC has partnered with Hubert Ebner Ltd, an internationally acclaimed organisation specialising in automobile driving training and road safety issues.

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Trainees are exposed to lessons related to safety measures on the road, techniques on self-protection while driving, and desired behavioural change. For the practical competency part of the training, drivers are tested on their ability to operate safely through the ‘P-Drive’ technique.

Under BRAC's road safety programme, BRAC Driving School similarly trained over 1,200 individuals so far. It has been observed that drivers who underwent the 'Surokkha' training were reported to have displayed considerable change in their behaviour in adapting to safe driving techniques.

Bangladesh Road and Transport Authority (BRTA), Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority in a recent news report attributed over 90 per cent road crashes to rash driving. Experts stress awareness raising and capacity building for skilled, safe and responsible driving to reduce the excessively high rate of road crashes.

A discussion session also took place during the training in which Lieutenant Commander Sanjida Hossain and Lieutenant Commander M Enayet Hossain were present. The speakers at the discussion emphasised that the drivers should mindfully apply their learning in the training while behind the steering wheel.

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Every year in Bangladesh, 31 million people confront with legal challenges. A majority of these challenges occur when dealing with neighbours, and the most complicated ones arise when dealing with land related issues. This was among the findings presented at the launching event of the report titled ‘Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Bangladesh 2018’ at the capital’s BRAC Centre today on Wesnesday (May 9, 2018).

This research was conducted and published in collaboration between Netherlands based nonprofit The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), the Government of Netherlands, and BRAC. The framing questions for the research included what kind of legal dilemmas people face in Bangladesh, how they deal with those issues, who or which institutions they seek for help to resolve their concerns, and the level of responses they receive.

The study was conducted through in-depth qualitative interviews of around 6000 respondents who have randomly selected in 64 districts of the country. The study was conducted in August and September of 2017.

The chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Kazi Reazul Hoque, was present at the event as its chief guest. Also present as special guests were the head of Measuring Justice for HiiL, Dr Martin Gramatikov, and the quantitative justice data analyst of the same organisation, Martin Kind. Programme Head of BRAC's Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) Sajeda Farisa Kabir moderated the ceremony.

The key highlights that came out from the study include: 31 million people face legal dilemmas every year. The major types of legal issues they face include, among others, issues with neighbours (40%), land disputes (29%), criminal offences (21%), family disputes (12%), money related issues (12%), social welfare (11%), consumer problems (9%), and accidents and personal injury (8%).

In terms of the severity of the issues, land related legal disputes come out on top of the rest. The severity of the problems as reported by percentage: land disputes (25%), neighbours (22%), crime (12%), family disputes (7%), money (7%), social welfare (5%), housing (4%), and accidents and personal injury (4%).

To ensure more effective dispute resolutions and ensure better justice mechanism a number of recommendations were drawn in the report, which include among others: prioritisation of legal problems to solve them, improve information delivery, design and provide affordable and accessible justice journeys for all, explore the full potential of hybrid justice mechanisms, justice innovation and digital innovation.

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Involvement of women in information and communication technology will significantly strengthen their social and economic empowerment. It will in turn have important contribution in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals particularly the SDG-5. However, the effort to meaningfully expand women's engagement in the ICT sector entails tackling a number of challenges including social and family hurdles, lack of required knowledge and skills, lack of inspiration and fear about security in the virtual space.

These observations were made today on Wednesday (25 April, 2018) in a study presentation on the obstacles for women's participation in the information and communication sector. It was presented at a discussion organised at the BRAC Centre in the capital. Shahid Uddin Akbar, chief executive officer of the Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development (BIID), delivered the presentation. BIID conducted the study for which 164 female students studying in different universities were interviewed.

Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, speaker of Bangladesh Parliament, was present at the event as the chief guest at the event with Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT and lawmaker, attending as special guest. BIID, BRAC, Plan International Bangladesh and Preneurlab jointly organised the programme on the occasion of International Girls in ICT Day to be observed on 26 April.

Tania Nusrat Zaman, head of child protection, Plan International Bangladesh, gave the welcome speech. KAM Morshed, director of Advocacy for Social Change, Technology and Partnership Strengthening Unit, BRAC, and Rabiul Alam Chowdhury, head of IT, Plan International, forwarded the recommendations to widen the scopes for women's participation in the sector.

The study observes that if women's participation in the ICT sector can be increased from the current 33.7 per cent to 82 per cent, it will result in 1.6 per cent more GDP growth. This achievement would help the country make stronger strides towards its SDG targets.

In this interview-based study three major challenges for ICT education for young women have been referred which are, bringing change in the perception of young women about ICT education, lack of knowledge and skills in ICT and lack of required skills to engage in the sector.

Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said in her speech stressed three areas of work to strengthen women's participation in ICT sector which are, undertaking focused effort to popularise the sector among women, recognise ICT as a specialised sector requiring specialised human resources and spread the message that it is a sector that will reconstruct the future.

"The government targets to ensure equal stake of men and women by 2030. To achieve the target the government has undertaken digitalisation initiatives with equal emphasis on the rural and urban areas, which will continue in future," he further said.

Emphasising IT education she suggested that 'IT scholarship' may be a convenient motivation to create awareness among students.

Zunaid Ahmed Palak said that to boost youth employment in the ICT sector the Bangladesh government will train 300 thousand youths, both men and women, by 2021. "We have reserved 20-30 per cent quota for women trainees in this initiative," he further said, pointing out that two million youth enter the country's job market every year.

Participants in the open discussion stressed updating of curriculums for ICT and digital technology education to broaden the equal opportunity space, motivating more women to actively participate in the sector and establishing women-friendly workplace.

High officials from the government and international organisations and representatives from the NGOs were also present at the event.

The International Telecommunication Union in collaboration with the United Nations has been celebrating the day on the fourth Thursday of April for some years now. Since 2011 more than 30 thousand women have been celebrating the day in 166 countries across the world.

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Press conference on World Malaria Day held

Three districts, Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari, are in considerable risk of malaria despite much has been achieved in checking the menace of the mosquito-borne disease. According to the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NECP), currently 93 per cent of the country's 29 thousand and 247 malaria patients are from these three districts. The major reasons for these districts to have most malaria patients are their hilly frontiers, profuse rain, large forest area, inadequacies in healthcare system and problems faced while reaching treatment and other healthcare services.

Experts revealed this information at a press conference today on Tuesday (24 April 2018) organised at the National Press Club in the capital. The government National Malaria Elimination Programme and BRAC organised the event on the occasion of World Malaria Day 2018 observed on 25 April.

The press conference was arranged to disseminate information on the future activities required to eliminate malaria, challenges in risk mitigation and recommendations as well as public awareness messages.

Director-general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad spoke as the chief guest of the event. Director of the government Disease Control unit and also line director of Communicable Disease Control unit Prof. (Dr) Sanya Tahmina, director of BRAC's Communicable Diseases, WASH and DMCC programmes Dr Md Akramul Islam, and head for its communicable diseases and WASH programmes Dr Moktadir Kabir also spoke among others.

DGHS epidemiologist Dr Md Mosiqure Rahman moderated the press conference.

DGHS deputy programme manager for malaria and Aedes transmitted diseases Dr MM Aktaruzzaman delivered the keynote presentation, highlighting the country's success in eliminating malaria.

The speakers pointed out that malaria, being one of the major public health problems of Bangladesh, plague its 71 upazilas of 13 districts, namely Rangamati, Khagrachari, Bandarban, Cox's Bazar, Chattagram, Sunamganj, Moulvibazar, Sylhet, Habiganj, Netrokona, Mymensingh, Sherpur and Kurigram.

It also mentioned that malarial deaths have much reduced lately, thanks to the collaborative efforts and effective measures by the government and non-governmental actors. While in 2014, 45 patients succumbed to the infection, in 2015 the number fell to only 9 (nine). However, 2016 saw a little rise in the number of deaths at 17, to drop again in 2017 to 13.

Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad said, "Our goal is to eliminate malaria completely from Bangladesh by 2030. To achieve this goal we are working to prevent the disease from occurring in eight among the 13 vulnerable districts, while make sure that 51 districts are entirely free from malaria."

Prof.(Dr) Sanya Tahmina said, "We have already produced a guideline for the travellers to the hilly regions that will help reduce their risk to contract malaria." The government has also undertaken an initiative to distribute 333 thousand mosquito nets to the hilly regions and among the Rohingya people who have taken refuge in Cox's Bazar after being forcibly evicted from Myanmar, she further said.

Dr Md Akramul Islam said, "As the world's largest non-governmental actor BRAC is resolutely extending the malaria elimination programme in the camps sheltering the Rohingyas."

The keynote presentation also highlighted some of the major challenges for malaria elimination: Shortage of physicians and healthcare professionals in the remote areas limiting the capacity for treatment and healthcare service delivery, people's increased mobility, increased risk of malarial infection in the border areas and climate change impacts.

To observe World Malaria Day 2018 a parade will be organised tomorrow on Wednesday, starting from Zero Point in the capital to end at CIRDAP. A discussion session will follow at 11am at the CIRDAP auditorium. Health and family welfare minister and lawmaker Md Nasim will be present at the discussion as the chief guest.

The theme of World Malaria Day 2018 is "Ready to beat malaria".

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