About the context

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in the area of poverty reduction, due in part to a GDP growth rate of 6 per cent in recent years. Improvements in social indicators such as increased life expectancy and lower fertility rate have corresponded with economic growth, despite having one of the world’s highest population densities (cf. UNDP). However, over 20 million people in the South Asian country are largely excluded from this progress and still have to be considered as extremely poor. Among them are high number of women (40% of women-headed households in Bangladesh are extreme poor).

A multitude of interconnected factors create the conditions of extreme poverty and make it a trap: Chronic food insecurity impacts on one’s health and physical ability to secure a livelihood, the lack of education leads to low-paid, unskilled jobs and unawareness of one’s rights, the absence of any assets means having no safety margin to cope with periodic external shocks, and the social stigma of being extreme poor is coupled with a low self-esteem.

Among other important factors the main challenges for the extreme poor in Bangladesh include:

  • A lack of employment opportunities: Year-round remunerative employment opportunities are often not accessible for marginalized people. The extreme poor typically have no land, limited education and no marketable skills or social networks which would allow them to access sufficient economic prospects to secure their livelihoods. Thus, they frequently rely on selling their physical labour on a daily basis resulting in extremely low wages, poor working conditions and no ability to accumulate savings to respond to situations of distress. People who are not able to sell their labour, such as elderly and people with disabilities or ill health, are especially disadvantaged with absolutely no means to earn a living. 
  • Exclusion from public services: While there is a great need for extreme poor people to access public services and governmental social safety nets, they are often systematically excluded from these highly-needed governmental support structures. In many cases they lack awareness on the procedures required or the confidence to claim their entitlements. Furthermore, governmental service providers often discriminate against the extreme poor since they are in no position to bribe. Indigenous groups (Adivasis) are especially affected by this discrimination. NETZ conducted a study to explore the factors behind the systematic exclusion of indigenous groups from social safety net measures in Bangladesh. The study can be downloaded here.
  • Vulnerability to external shocks: In Bangladesh natural disasters such as floods, cyclones and river erosion are a common occurrence. The vulnerable extreme poor are often defenceless against these disasters which can destroy their entire livelihoods and push them even deeper into the poverty trap. They lack the means to mitigate the damages since they have little resources (such as savings, access to public services or social networks) to draw from. The increasing impacts of climate change in Bangladesh will exacerbate this situation even further.
  • Gender Inequity: Despite major progress in gender equality in Bangladesh, gender-based repression remains a cross-cutting issue enhancing the adverse impact of all other factors that cause and sustain extreme poverty. Female headed households are more likely to be pushed into extreme poverty and have much less resources to draw from. Furthermore, gender violence and issues like early marriage and dowry negatively impact the development of women and their families.  

This list of challenges could be further elaborated and certainly it could be further complemented. But even in this compressed form it shows the range of challenges which extreme poor people have to face and which have to be tackled on very different levels in order to end extreme poverty. We would like to invite you to have a look at the approach that we have taken in order to rise to this challenge.