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Ending poverty: What will it take?

Bangladesh was making impressive progress towards ending poverty - UN Sustainable Development Goal 1 - but the Covid-19 pandemic, and the challenges of climate change and rapid urbanization have significantly impacted poverty reduction and exacerbated inequality.

These challenges must be addressed together in the remaining nine years until the SDGs end in 2030.

Bangladesh’s eighth five-year plan targets reducing extreme poverty to 7.4% by 2025, and Vision 2041 to eradicate extreme poverty by 2031.

Non-governmental organizations have been important government partners in Bangladesh for decades in poverty alleviation efforts.

These organizations, based on their resource capacities are active across the country or regionally.

Brac has been one of the largest NGO partners of the government in poverty alleviation, integrating an increasingly holistic strategy and a special approach towards extreme poverty reduction. 

Since 2002, implementing its extensively evidence-based ‘ultra poor graduation’ approach, Brac has supported 2.1 million households (around nine million people) to overcome extreme poverty.

The collective experiences from poverty reduction programming and the recent learning from economic recovery efforts for the "new poor" taught us that graduation from poverty is not a single point of departure.

There are numerous external and internal factors that can pull people who have graduated from poverty back down below the poverty line.

Hence, graduation should be seen as a range in which access to different types of support is required to sustain the graduation.

This year, on ‘International Poverty Eradication Day’, let’s aim to have stronger collaboration to identify and put forward those various types of support and interventions for sustainable poverty reduction.

Interventions

First, resilience must be factored in at every step of getting out of poverty. This can transform peoples’ lives, not only to manage the risk that they are constantly in, but to take preventive measures to protect themselves from perceived and predictable risks.

This is crucial in our country, where 74% of healthcare expenses are borne by patients, 85% of people are employed in the informal economy and we are the sixth most disaster prone country in the world.

Prioritizing resilience will strengthen people's ability to cope with shocks and improve the sustainability of poverty reduction.

Second, the scope of the Leaving No One Behind principle in the poverty eradication context must be linked with the public sector investment in poverty-stricken areas.

The cost of the multidimensional poverty trap should be progressively offset by the benefits from inclusive public sector investments for people living in poverty and in the extreme vulnerable situations.

Women, people living with disabilities, climate vulnerable communities and other marginalized communities face intersectional challenges.

These people and other similar vulnerable groups need specific support to lift themselves out of poverty.

Targeted public investment and partnerships are required to stimulate the creation of sustainable local economies; and to keep those small and vulnerable economic actors active in the economies.

Third, the transformative approach shaping today’s poverty eradication agenda is intrinsically linked with the adoption of social protection-based interventions.

The best available policy tool is ‘National Social Security Strategy’ (NSSS).

This was formulated based on the evidence that a large proportion of people living in poverty and vulnerable households not only have no access to the large number of social safety net programs, but also the average benefit of safety net programs was low.

The NSSS acknowledges the need for social security ladders, which consist of human development components: training, education stipends, awareness-building; financial strengthening: savings, income supplement, access to microcredit; employment guarantee or asset transfers.

It also emphasizes the importance of continuous program experimentations and innovations.

The translation of social security ladders in all programmatic actions will help build cycles of productive asset creation for people living in poverty.

With the global and national goals fast approaching, speed and scale are now crucial, and poverty and inequality must be addressed together.

People with the least resources need to be reached first, and approaches must be cost-effective, which will need precise targeting and a concerted effort by governments, donors and implementing partners.

Public sector investment can escalate progress, and the adoption of social protection-based interventions can maximize the reach.

What we need is a coordinated action plan and its implementation using the following nine simple interlinked strategic actions for next nine years:

·         Design new social protection interventions to push through the poverty graduation phase;

·         Include shock absorption components in all program responses to build resilience;

·         Do simple cost calculations for not being able to reach the poorest, and for not being able to reach the goal in time;

·         Leave no one behind, placing extra focus on those facing intersectional challenges;

·         Link the needs of people living in poverty with public investment;

·         Align poverty graduation interventions and social security ladders;

·         Identify people living in the poverty and most vulnerable situations;

·         Promote greater collaboration; and

·         Build awareness on the adverse consequences of multidimensional poverty.

 

The author is director, Ultra Poor Graduation at Brac

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