Differences in Poverty Levels and Trends at Sub-national Levels in Bangladesh: are we asking the Right Questions?

InM, in collaboration with Save the Children UK, organised a seminar on “Differences in Poverty Levels and Trends at Sub-national Levels in Bangladesh: Are We Asking the Right Questions?” at LGED auditorium on April 28, 2010. Dr. Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, MP and Honorable Minster for Food and Disaster Management of the Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, graced the occasion as the Chief Guest.

Dr. Sajjad Zohir, Director, Economic Research Group, presented the key note paper.

The respected panel of discussants consisted of Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, former adviser, caretaker Government, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Chairman of PPRC, Dr. Shamsul Alam, member, General Economic Division, Planning Commission, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and Professor Abul Barkat, Chairman, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.

Dr. Rashid Faruqee, Visiting Fellow, InM, moderated the whole session. Representatives from national and international NGOs, think tanks, research organisations and distinguished academics were present at the seminar.

Dr. Md. Mosleh Uddin Sadeque, Interim Executive Director, InM, warmly welcomed everyone at the seminar on behalf of both the organizers and gave the audience a brief idea of the study and the objectives of the seminar.

In his paper, Dr. Sajjad Zohir made some interesting revelations about regional differences in poverty levels in Bangladesh. It was a thought provoking presentation that questioned the basic assumptions used in doing researches on poverty and its levels and trends.

He suggested that the huge effort put in collecting and processing HIES and other national level data are aimed at raising questions that are only good for safety net type programmes and not to assist informed policymaking to make substantive dents into poverty, nor in the increasing regional differences.

He reiterated the need to revisit the issues with local polity taking charge of the data generation and their processes be ensured before the present round of HIES is completed, the 2011 census is administered and a next round of poverty maps is generated for the purpose of resource allocation.

Dr. Zohir suggested an alternative framework that assumes that production requires land, labour, machineries and fuel. Spatial allocation of fuel is assumed to be at the hands of policymakers; and so is the investment on infrastructure which defines that nature of connectivity between different locations. Two aspects of connectivity are considered-labour mobility and output (produce) mobility.

The framework allows defining returns to factors, including returns to migration. All these, in return, influence household allocation to such heads as education which have close association with returns.

An enriching panel discussion followed where the discussants put forward many interesting suggestions. Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman stressed the need to incorporate non-economic indicators like education and some other social indicators to fathom the poverty level and its region wise difference.

He also opined that household level analyses should be linked with meso level analyses for better understanding of the problem at hand. There are four frontiers of poverty in the country: the Monga areas, Haor areas along with the coastal belts and the urban areas experience different types of poverty, he said adding that poverty has gradually broadened its domain and extended itself to non-food items over the years, as well as human development aspects.

Dr. Shamsul Alam also emphasized the need to consider all aspect of difference in studies like this. Professor Barkat thought eradication of absolute poverty is possible and for that reason we need conceptual clarity. That’s why studies like this are important in raising vital questions about growth and development.

The open discussion session that followed was a vibrant one where participants raised relevant questions and came up with interesting ideas to improve the knowledge on disparity in poverty levels across the country.

In his speech, honorable Minister reiterated his Government’s commitment in bridging the gap between different regions of the country in terms of growth and development. He also added the government welcomes suggestions to ensure that it takes the right steps towards understanding the existing phenomenon and designing the appropriate policies.

The seminar ended with a vote of thanks from Mr. Suman Sengupta, Country Director, Save the Children who hoped to continue similar advocacy exercises with the government in future.