What can be done to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor?
The gap between the rich and the poor is perpetuating and has enlarged alarmingly, despite a decline in the rate of poverty in recent times before the pandemic hit.
The poverty level dropped to 24.3% in 2016 from 31.5% in 2010, but other indicators which measure income inequality within the population, coupled with slow investment for vulnerable communities, are likely to challenge the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to social scientist AKM Mustaque Ali, an executive director of INCIDIN Bangladesh.
Whenever financial resources are invested to strengthen the capability of the bottom 20%, the local ruling party elites with their nexus of power lobbies eat up the development initiatives, leaving bread-crumbs for the vulnerable.
The vulnerable community must also have access to natural resources, basic education, health care, learning skills, community participation in development planning, and the justice system. The digital divide that exists among the rural poor has also blocked the best practices of good governance, transparency, and zero-tolerance to corruption.
A lack of access to the justice system has also aggravated social tensions, which challenges the traditions of social harmony and religious freedom in rural areas.
The power lobby, which includes politicians, rent-seekers, and contractors who are responsible for milching the development budget for the poor, end up making the rich richer. Several other factors, including climate change, have expedited rural-urban migration.
Historically, Bangladesh has had inequitable access to land, in a land-scarce country where the per capita cultivated land is limited. Minority elites with an unholy alliance with power lobbies dominate both land and river resources.
“Migration fundamentally challenges our understanding of development,” says Mustaque Ali in an outstanding research report published in “Migration in South Asia: Poverty and Vulnerability” published by Kathmandu based think-tank South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE).
Internal migration is generally linked to population pressure, adverse person to land ratio, landlessness, poverty, natural calamities, law and order, lack of social and cultural spaces, job opportunities, and higher wages. As for the poor, the search for survival is often forced, controlled, and restricted.
Dhaka is the only migration destination for both the rich and the poor in Bangladesh. It’s understood that migration to the Dhaka region is caused by the concentration of economic, administrative, and political institutions in the capital -- thus it continues to attract migrants from other regions.
The present state of the economy of Bangladesh elucidates that economic growth is not a guarantee in cutting down the rate of unemployment. Bangladesh is in a state of jobless growth. Violence and conflict is another risk factor which causes migration.
There is no respite in attacks on minority communities, especially on Hindus and on the indigenous communities, by non-state actors, backed by local leaders. The silent, low-intensity violence against minorities is occurring with impunity, while civil administration and police in most cases do not take cognizance of the attacks.
Only those occurrences which make headlines in the media get the attention of the civil administration and police officers. Seldom have the victims been compensated. Justice remains elusive as perpetrators are released on bail, while judicial proceedings reveal that eye-witnesses have remained away from the court in fear of further reprisal.
Eminent economist Dr Abul Barakat has, in his research, said though, that most of this low-intensity violence is not to be blamed on religious motives -- the only intention was to grab the land, property, and business establishments of minority populations.
Bangladesh needs to enlarge its investment in ensuring the bottom 20% population living in both urban and rural areas are brought under a wider safety net, which most development economists believe will significantly reduce the gap.
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <[email protected]>; Twitter @saleemsamad.