Bangladesh is now on its way to graduate from the group of least developing countries (LDCs). Over the last decade, there has been considerable improvement in the overall socio-economic sectors which have made it possible for the country to keep its growth momentum. In keeping with the government's vision to develop the economy on a robust foundation, there are plenty of activities across the country, and it is undeniable that much of the benefits for the future would flow from the success of these ongoing activities.
Various mega projects are being implemented in the country. These have clearly changed the overall development scenario. But the concern is-- how well the benefits of such development are reaching the citizens? Currently, more than three million people are still living below the poverty line. It is well said that the benefit of productivity growth is being enjoyed mostly by the richer segment of the society. The middle class and poor segment of people are still struggling to fulfill their basic needs.
Despite the impressive progress of agriculture sector, the country is still struggling to cope up with abnormal food price hikes. Although the cost of living and household income has increased in the last decade, it does not apply to all income groups. It is evident that the consumption of major food commodities has decreased due to high prices and at the same time expenditure has increased. In such a situation, the poorest/marginalised households are more vulnerable to economic shocks due to their limited coping capacity. They are likely to use coping strategies such as removing children from school, limiting or cutting on their food intakes, taking high-interest or unfavourable loans that can have negative effects on overall livelihood.
Higher expenditure makes people, especially lower income group, critically vulnerable to any future increase in essential commodities which might curtail their ability to provide their basic needs. Therefore, there is a need for government intervention to control market by way of subsidies to keep food prices of major food items within the reach of the poor. Food policy interventions aimed at protecting the consumption of the poor can be justified on both equity and efficiency grounds.
Economic strengthening programmes of the households including social protection and improved livelihood should be designed to enable households to earn sufficient income to meet specific needs. It is needed to develop effective programming through well-planned sectoral approaches.
True, the government is trying to increase the coverage and allocation under social safety net programmes (SSNPs) of the country, still it is lower than demanded. Moreover, lack of accountability, transparency and nepotism of the local government authority make it difficult to properly implement these programmes. As a result, effectiveness of the programmes often gets reduced. Strengthening SSNPs is thus a major priority for the government.
K M Mustafizur Rahman is a teacher at the Department of Population Science in Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University.