See also: Anniversary of the New Delhi Attack Reminds Us that Tackling Violence is Urgent
December 16, 2012 will in the foreseeable future be remembered as the day in which six men savagely gang raped a 23-year old female student on a bus in New Delhi. The young woman died from her injuries 13 days later. The event shocked the nation and sparked unprecedented uprisings in the Indian capital and across the country. It put the international spotlight on India and reminded us that violence against women remains a leading cause of female mortality worldwide.
Today, on the one-year anniversary of what is simply referred to as the “Delhi Rape”, we are compelled to pause and reflect. Four men were sentenced to death for the crime in September – did this bring closure? Beyond the protests and public appeals for change, has there been meaningful change in India?
See also: Anniversary of the New Delhi Attack Reminds Us that Tackling Violence is Urgent
About a year back the Economist had an editorial piece titled "Out of the basket" and subtitled “Lessons from the achievements – yes, really, achievements – of Bangladesh.” The more in-depth piece that followed appeared somewhat bemused at how a country once labeled a ‘test case for development’ could have made such striking gains in development outcomes over the past two decades (see table 1). These gains were hard to reconcile amidst Bangladesh’s natural and Rana Plaza-type disasters, volatile politics and unfavorable rankings on governance indicators – themes which the Economist has often covered before, and after, this “achievements” piece.
This past week the Lancet has come out with a special issue on Bangladesh which the journal editors say is in order to “investigate one of the great mysteries of global health.” Specifically the published papers are meant to explore how “Bangladesh has made enormous health advances and now has the longest life expectancy, lowest fertility rate and lowest infant and under-5 mortality rates in South Asia despite spending less on health care than several neighbouring countries.” Both these publications help explain the various ‘Bangladesh paradoxes’ but they also overlook, or underplay, a few critical factors.
In Bangladesh, youth with disability often have difficulty transitioning to work, as they lack the necessary skills to perform competitively in the job market and also face discrimination from employers on the basis of their disability. When the World Bank and Microsoft announced the regional grant competition “Youth Solutions! Technology for Skills and Employment”, we decided to submit a proposal to address this from the Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) in Bangladesh.
Our proposed project titled “Empowering Youth with Disabilities through Market Driven ICT Skills” sought ideas from youth on how to use innovative and creative methods to promote ICT skills amongst youth with disabilities to help them secure gainful employment.
On a Path Towards Climate Resilience
Two recent key reports – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's ‘Fifth Assessment Report' and World Bank’s ‘Turn Down the Heat’ – reveal long-term implications for Bangladesh and its people from probable catastrophic impacts of climate change. Both paint a very dismal scenario of the future as climate change continues to take its toll. The earth faces a temperature rise of at least 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels requiring firm and coordinated action to benefit all countries.
This was not the only bad news. The recently released sixth annual Climate Change Vulnerability Index, (Maplecroft) revealed that Bangladesh would feel the economic impacts of climate change most intensely and that our capital Dhaka would be one of the five most climate vulnerable cities in the world.
Having seen the impacts of climate change in our lifetime across agro-climactic zones in Bangladesh, our Government had prudently initiated a series of policies and actions for a climate resilient economy. The strategy is simple – to make livelihoods of the poorest/vulnerable populations climate resilient, so that the national economy is insulated from climate change and becomes a foundation to vigorously pursue sustainable development.
Why Sanitation Access Doesn’t Work Unless the Entire Village Buys In
Jitender is a four-year old boy with forward-thinking parents. Although it’s common in his village, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, for most people to defecate in the open, his parents have taken the lessons of the government’s sanitation campaign to heart. They know that open defecation spreads disease—so they construct a private toilet that hygienically isolates their waste from human contact. Nonetheless, a few months later, Jitender develops persistent diarrhea. He is often dehydrated, loses weight, and becomes pale. His immune system is weakened by multiple bouts of disease, and for the next several years he struggles with recurrent illness. He has trouble keeping up with his schoolwork, and, more perniciously, even though he ate more than enough calories each day, the diarrhea eventually caused malnourishment. He remains small for his height and suffers from subtle intellectual deficits that make it difficult for him to follow the teacher’s lessons even during those periods when he does manage to attend. Because of his low marks, his family isn’t able to fulfill their dream of sending him on to university. The village takes note of Jitender’s example and concludes that improved sanitation doesn’t provide much, if any, benefit. This is a fictional story; however, similar stories are being heard every day in South Asia.
“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.
Las organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONG), los organismos de crédito y el sector público están trabajando duro para cumplir la meta mundial de saneamiento. ¿Pero qué ocurre con el sector privado?, ¿y qué ocurre con las familias que no quieren esperar a la próxima ONG que golpee a su puerta con un mejor retrete? Durante los últimos años, la estrategia de Marketing Sanitario del Programa de Agua y Saneamiento (i) (WSP, por sus siglas en inglés) en Bangladesh (i) ha intentado abordar estas preocupaciones estimulando la oferta y la demanda de instalaciones sanitarias higiénicas a través de la movilización de empresarios locales. El objetivo del Marketing Sanitario es que las familias tengan el deseo y la facultad de autogestión para ascender en la escalera de saneamiento por su propia cuenta.
El programa piloto comenzó en 2009 en cinco aldeas del distrito de Jamalpur y se lo ha ampliado ahora hasta alrededor de 230 aldeas en todo Bangladesh con el apoyo de la Alianza Holandesa WASH, Empresas para el Desarrollo Internacional y la Fundación MAX. El WSP también crea estrategias e implementa el proyecto con Esperanza para los más pobres (HFP, por sus siglas en inglés), una ONG local de Bangladesh, y de la Asociación para el Progreso Social (ASA, por sus siglas en inglés), una institución de microfinanciamiento.
NGOs, lending agencies, and the public sector are hard at work in meeting the global sanitation target. But what about the private sector, and what about the families that do not want to wait for the next NGO to knock on their door with a better toilet? Over the past couple of years, the Water and Sanitation Program’s (WSP) Sanitation Marketing strategy in Bangladesh has tried to address these concerns by stimulating the supply and demand of hygienic sanitation facilities through the mobilization of local entrepreneurs. The objective of Sanitation Marketing is for families to have the desire and the agency to move up the sanitation ladder on their own.
In 2009, the pilot program began in five villages in the Jamalpur district, and has now been scaled-up to around 230 villages across Bangladesh with support from the Dutch WASH Alliance, International Development Enterprises, and the Max Foundation. WSP also strategizes and implements the project with Hope for the Poorest (HFP), a local Bangladeshi NGO, and the Association of Social Advancement (ASA), a microfinance institution.
Mohammed Jalal is one of the many sanitation entrepreneurs supported by Sanitation Marketing in the Hobiganj district where WSP has began scaling up the initiative since 2011. Through microfinance loans from ASA and small-business training sessions from WSP, Mr. Jalal was able to open two stores in Hobiganj. Mr. Jalal’s shops are decorated with colorful flags to attract customers and are filled with an assortment of sanitation products such as handwashing stations and off-set pit latrines. With a catalogue in hand, Mr. Jalal markets his products to local villages and gives households the chance to move up the sanitation ladder. Customers are able to choose the materials and colors of their latrine and are most importantly, able to choose the type of sanitation facility that fits into their budget. Products range from Tk 1,600 (US $20) to Tk 20,000 (US $250), and all Sanitation Marketing entrepreneurs offer an installment plan for families to pay for their products over time. WSP additionally connects these entrepreneurs to the local government in order to establish whether any families in the area are eligible for subsidies. In the Hobiganj district alone, Sanitation Marketing has been able to support over 17 entrepreneurs like Mr. Jalal to serve hundreds of happy customers.
Our journey to the remote region of Gabura in Bangladesh took us down unpaved roads, through meandering rivers and to the edges of the Sundarban mangrove forest. The first thing that struck us was the near absence of trees in the village. During cyclones Sidr and Aila, saline water had destroyed agricultural land and although the place was surrounded by water, it was unfit to drink. The embankment, which was built to protect the area from tidal surges, was in severe disrepair. To make matters worse, once the aid funds had dried up in the aftermath of the cyclones, almost all the NGOs had left and there was little assistance coming from the government.