Reaching the extreme poor

November 12th, 2009

Made it to Rangpur! It’s only about 250km north of Dhaka, but it’s a full day’s drive. The roads are pretty good, all tarmac, but the further north you come the more rickshaws, bicycles, carts, overladen buses and other slow vehicles you come across and so inevitably you make slow progress. I was here in time to meet the team who are responsible for our new “Shiree” project. Shiree stands for something long and academic in English, but no one can remember what! In Bangla it means “ladder” which is very appropriate.

Shiree is the initiative of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). It is a recognition that after several decades of pretty intensive anti poverty work in Bangladesh, there is still an “underclass” of people, who even the charities and the microcredit people have not yet reached. These are the most vulnerable people who, as in any society, tend to fall between the cracks and are difficult to find. DFID have asked six different charities, including Practical Action, to deliver a programme which really tries to target these most marginalised people or “extreme poor” as they are known. They hope these programmes will become models for replicating across Bangladesh and maybe elsewhere in the world.

Based on our previous experience in nearby Gaibanda, Practical Action is targeting people who live close to the river banks, and who have to move every year when the floods come as their land is flooded or eroded, then return to try and eke out a meagre existence on the sandbars that are left over. We are aiming to get 50,000 such people out of poverty for ever, within three years. At the moment every single household being targeted by the programme has an income of less than 2000 Bangladesh tka per month (that is a little under £20 for the whole household).

The training in pumpkin cultivation – which works well in the sand, and the short growing season – started yesterday. The team are very excited about the work and the challenges that it will bring – but confident that they can deliver. I’m looking forward to working with them over the next couple of days.

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