Chittagong Hill Tracts: Ethnic Minorities the Hardest Hit by Poverty
Below is an article published by the Bangladeshi New Nation
The rate of poverty among ethnic minorities in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is apparently more acute than that of the people in the Monga-prone plain lands in the north, reveals a study in the city on Tuesday July 31st 2010.
The study, conducted over 1,012 households in greater Rangpur as well as Bandarban and Rangamati in 2009-10, said around 65 percent of study population in CHT was found living below the poverty line, compared to nearly 60 percent of plain lands.
Unlike Chakma tribe, the study said, the literacy rate among the ethnic group was also poor compared to people living in Monga areas, one of the country's poorest parts where erosion from river Jamuna and its tributaries renders thousands homeless every year.
The study, done under joint sponsorship of the government and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, says the problem of monga, a seasonal unemployment and food crisis, has subsided partially in greater Rangpur and parts of Pabna, but permanent solution to it is far from sight.
It said the total vulnerability to poverty and food crisis for the people in the north was found to be much higher than that of the people in the hill tracts because of high variability of food consumption in greater Rangpur.
"Although the rate of poor in CHT areas is higher, the number of hardcore poor people, who consume food that contains less than 1,800 kilo calorie, was higher in the north," Prof Rezai Karim Khandker, principal investigator of the study, said at the warp- up session of two-day workshop in the city today.
Food Planning and Monitoring Unit of Ministry of Food and FAO jointly organized the workshop to review the findings from 11 researches done under grants from a project titled 'National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Programme'.
Food and Disaster Management Minister Dr Abdur Razzaque on Monday formally opened the workshop, where US Ambassador to Bangladesh James F Moriarty also spoke.
Rezai Karim, also head of economics department of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), said the poverty in CHT was partially minimized by the ethnic group themselves because of their dependence on both agriculture and non- agriculture jobs.
In contrast, he said, the people of the north have no other options but to depend on agriculture in the Monga-prone areas. The over-dependence on agriculture coupled with river erosion have outweighed the advantages of the people of the north than that of the CHT.
He said severe food insecurity persists in the monga-prone areas, where social safety net coverage from the government should be widened and strengthened along with raising awareness among the people on health and nutrition.
As mid-term solution, he said, the agriculture extension department should diversify agro-based products in the areas to raise poor people's income and inspire them to send all their kid to schools. The river erosion should be checked and labour- intensive industries can be set up as a long-term solution, he observed.
FAO headquarters representative Kostas Stamoulis, who supervises the all researches under NFPCSP, said non-agricultural interventions such as poultry farming and fisheries need to be recognized side by side with agricultural interventions to offset poverty.