Last week, I met our Minister of Planning Mustafa Kamal to discuss the rapid eradication of extreme poverty from Bangladesh. I was happy to find him knowledgeable about the challenges facing the poorest and to be supportive of a pro-poor, inclusive growth model which will provide the extreme poor with education and opportunities to help them stand on their own feet. I shared with the minister the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor and asked him a few questions. His responses were as follows:
I work with Shiree, a livelihoods project that works with 1 million extremely poor people.
I salute people working for NGOs and development agencies. You are good people. What you are trying to do is very noble. You are trying to reach out to people who are poor, hungry, and vulnerable. You want to do something for them. You are trying to bring changes to extremely poor people’s lives through education, motivation and skills.
What do you know of the challenges faced by the extreme poor?
To be born poor is no crime. I was once a poor man. When I was a student, at least on three occasions my name was struck from the registrar because I could not pay my tuition fees. At that time, some of my community people, noble people, helped out and paid my fees. I know how grave it is to be poor. I know the gravity of extreme poverty. Everybody, all of us, should try our best so we can get rid of this particular territory (extreme poverty).
What will you do in your current capacity to help the extreme poor?
I am working now as the planning minister of Bangladesh. My plan is, I want to see this country out of extreme poverty as fast as possible. Otherwise, any development becomes ineffectual. If we are rich and side by side there are poor people, then we need to concentrate on the poor. In order to enjoy the benefits of growth, the last five years we have had over 6% growth, but to make this growth healthy and sustainable we have to reduce our poverty level and ensure that there are no people left who are hungry and extremely poor. But growth has to be for everybody or it is meaningless. We want inclusive growth. Sustained, inclusive growth.
What is the planning ministry going to do?
From our ministry, we want to promote projects which promote sustained, inclusive growth. We would like to support projects that target the poor regions and customise solutions as such. We will integrate with those project, for example, by providing education, helping them mitigate their sufferings. Education can help them stand on their own feet. Through education, they will obtain opportunities. That is the way we must help the extreme poor. Only reducing poverty with handouts of foodstuff is meaningless. There has to be a comprehensive delivery of services.
Can you talk a bit about the seventh five-year plan?
The Manifesto for the Extreme Poor has a set goal: To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. This is also the goal of our honorable prime minister. It will be one of the main agendas in the seventh five-year plan. We will implement and exercise in such a way so as to fulfill our objectives. To achieve our vision, to make it a reality, we shall try to be compliant, taking help from our development partners, external agencies, NGOs, and support from the private sector, and of course government support, certainly we will make this a success. It will be our target to become the first country in the sub-continent to eradicate extreme poverty.