Intensifying pre-crisis coping strategies

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Mazbahul Golam Ahamad
Bangladesh has made impressive achievements in ensuring food availability during the last three decades. Even so, over 60 million people are said to go hungry every day. Significant intra-household disparity and discrimination in food also exist especially in the environmentally and economically vulnerable northern region of Bangladesh, situated in between the Teesta and the Jamuna basin that are known to be 'monga' prone.
Monga is seasonal scarcity of employment during the locally lean period from mid-September to mid-November. During this period the per capita income falls and leads to scarcity of food amongst mainly rural poor, landless as well as marginally land-owning families, concentrated mainly in greater Rangpur (Kurigram, Gaibanda, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat) and some parts of Jamalpur district.
The Bangladesh Poverty Map, a research conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and World Bank (WB) in collaboration with the Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) unit of the UNWFP, is an attempt to estimate poverty at lower administrative level. It is intended to enable economic analysts and policymakers to recognize regional geo-economic inequality. It focused on the percentage of poor (upper poverty line) and extremely poor (lower poverty line). This found Fulchhari (60.00% & 42.70%), Char Rajibpur (73.90% & 58.80%), Hatiabanda (56.50% & 36.90%) and Dimla (75.70% & 61.50%) are the most poverty-stricken chars and flood affected mainlands of Gaibandha, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari districts respectively. Thus nearly three million people of the greater Rangpur and Dinajpur region who are chronically (extremely poor) poor are caught in such a cruel trap of poverty.
Food insecurity and consequent vulnerability, in terms of basic four-fold FAO concepts -- availability, access, utilisation of food and stability of these three dimension over time -- within the framework of poverty eradication, is the ex-ante (forward-looking) risk or probability that a household will, if currently non-poor, fall below the poverty line, or if currently poor, will remain in poverty. Thus the dynamic nature of food vulnerability in households is an outcome from a variety of risk factors (seasonal unemployment, damaged crop production) and an inability to manage those risks due to income as well as resource constraints.
Evidence and field research shows that about two-third of the households in these areas face food shortage, whether transitory or chronic. River bank and flood-prone areas, marked as high damaging response cluster, are the worst-off among monga-prone areas in terms of food insecurity. More than one-third of the households in these vulnerable zones face food shortage throughout the year and another one-third face temporary or seasonal food shortage during the year.
Core elements of various protection, prevention and promotional measures from government, local and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international donor and development partner agencies have reduced different degrees of food severity in the monga areas. The budget of fiscal year (FY) 2009-10 allocates a broad spectrum of tends for monga mitigation for both year-round social safety net programme and lean season. Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Fund (VGF), Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction (CFPR), Chars Livelihood Programme (CLP), Programmed Initiative for Monga and the Eradication of Monga (PRIME) are some of the mitigation programmes working well and these combine social protection and complementary policy interventions.
Indeed, the direct beneficiaries of these income and employment generating activities are near about 10 to 15 per cent of total affected people due to limited budget allocation while the rest are not covered under social protection nets. Ultra poor households in monga-hit regions, which have no land or fixed asset or both are deprived as they can eat only a limited variety of food or eat fewer meals in a day and even suffer daylong hunger. Specially women and children are mostly affected in this case, producing serious social and economic consequences, including low schooling rate, losses in national productivity, income and income generating capacity for the future generation. This presumably continues in perpetuity.
Reduced consumption as well as livelihood coping strategy index explains a quick qualitative look and rank on monga mitigating options. Households had to rely on less preferred food, borrow from neighbours, purchase food on credit (borrowing with high interest rate), or gather food from natural/wild sources when the family did not have enough money to buy food in monga or locally slack seasons. Hardship comes when people are induced to sell agricultural products, livestock and fixed/movable assets or take temporary migration.
As food vulnerability is an outcome from a variety of risk, policy-makers should broaden their efforts to analyze the risk factors of food insecurity addressing time fixed action plan to reduce the degree of severity and enhancing the ability to cope with different preventive strategies. Minimum calorie intake should be ensured for the unprivileged vulnerable groups through linked channels of connectivity involving strategic or buffer stock of food grains at upazila level, convenient supply chain management and, equal allocation of sufficient food aid.
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