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Bangladesh increases rural access to electricity five-fold in two decades

  • Published at 01:07 am April 21st, 2019
power plant
File photo Syed Zakir Hossain/ Dhaka Tribune

Power distributions uneven among the rich and poor households

Within a span of two decades there has been a dramatic five-fold increase in access to electricity in rural Bangladesh but, there remain still a large number of poor rural households out of the benefits of power connectivity.

While the richest quintiles in rural Bangladesh enjoy 82.2 percent electricity connectivity, the percentage of electricity connection is as low as 37.1 among the poorest quintiles, reflecting an uneven distribution of power among people belonging to different income brackets. 

Coming up with this data, the country representative of the Washington-based think tank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr Akhter Ahmed, said, “An electricity connection enhances education of children, improves the quality of life, and helps households move out of poverty.”

He said, “Access to electricity is a composite indicator of development at the national, community, and household levels.”

 “Access to electricity also indicates the extent to which a household is ‘connected’ in a broader sense to roads, markets, and communications infrastructure (information technology in particular), and the resulting income-earning opportunities,” added Akhter.

Only 12.9 percent rural households in Bangladesh had electricity connections back in 1996-98 period, which saw a nearly five-fold increase to 58.6 percent in recent years.  

An IFPRI publication – Global Food Policy Report 2019 – launched in Dhaka last week stated that “South Asian governments have increased their commitment to providing basic services in rural areas in recent years, and their efforts are showing results for rural residents. About 80 percent of the region’s rural population now has access to electricity, a big increase from 57 percent in 2007. Rural areas in Bhutan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are almost entirely electrified. Access to electricity is lowest in Bangladesh (59 percent), followed by Afghanistan (77 percent) and India (78 percent).”

In Bangladesh, the capacity to absorb the growing rural labour force in agriculture is very limited as there is no scope for land expansion and growth of crop production is now more driven by mechanization and technology.   

Experts note that against this backdrop, rural households’ greater access to electricity connections can help propel the non-farm activities thereby, creating employment opportunities for the, otherwise, unemployed rural youths. 

IFPRI report said, “A rural transformation is taking place in South Asia because of changes in demography, urbanization, incomes, and livelihoods. Most countries in the region are reemphasizing and reorienting their rural development efforts toward revitalizing rural economies.”

It said, Bangladesh has emerged as a leader in improving rural development indicators as well as food and nutrition security. “In 2018, Bangladesh earmarked 27 percent of its budget for development of social infrastructure. To maintain the momentum, Bangladesh initiated measures focused on health and nutrition in rural areas and on consolidation of agricultural growth. A health protection program was introduced in 2018 for people below the poverty line, and free physician consultancy services are now available 24 hours a day. Almost 14,000 healthcare providers have been recruited to staff 13,500 community clinics that bring health services directly to the rural poor and marginalized communities.”

The report further stated, “Bangladesh has long committed to providing affordable and quality health, nutrition, and family welfare services. Rural social service programs were first introduced in 1974 to reduce poverty. Today, interest-free microcredit of 5,000 to 30,000 taka (about US$65– 375) per family is being distributed among the rural ultra-poor through a variety of social service and development programs; such microcredit schemes are generating self-employment opportunities.”

“Bangladesh is also supporting the political, social, administrative, and economic empowerment of women by facilitating women’s participation in the workplace—for example, by reducing violence against women and by providing access to information technologies to rural underprivileged woman.”

“Bangladesh is also investing in rural roads, and recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Asian Development Bank to upgrade about 1,700 kilometers of rural roads to all-weather standards. To support agriculture, Bangladesh imposes no import tariffs on primary inputs, including fertilizer, seeds, and insecticides.” stated the Global Food Policy Report 2019.