Since gaining independence in 1971, food security issues in Bangladesh have been amongst the highest priorities on the government’s agenda. This is because Bangladesh faces a number of demographic, social and ecological challenges, which make it particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. These challenges are further exacerbated by climate change, including the consequences of sea level rise. Silent threats such as soil and river salinity and arsenic contamination have direct and indirect effects on agricultural production and households’ access to food.
In order to target the continuing food security threats the Government of Bangladesh has developed a number of high level policy initiatives, including Vision 2021 and the related Perspective Plan. Achieving food security is also a key objective of the country’s poverty reduction strategy and has been recognised to be the highest risk in the Bangladesh Climate Change Action Plan. Strategic objectives include realizing universal food security, which implies that the country needs to be not only self-sufficient in terms of food production but also manage equitable distribution of nutritious food. Ensuring universal food security is particularly challenging given the multidimensional nature of the food security concept which comprises food availability, physical and financial access to food, food utilisation and food stability.
In introductory macroeconomic class, students learn the theory of the multiplier and many interesting counterintuitive notions such as the paradox of thrift and the balanced budget multiplier based on the multiplier process. Essentially, the multiplier multiplies because one person’s expenditure is another person’s income of which they spend a fraction, which in turn becomes another person’s income, of which a fraction is spent and the process eventually converges with subsequent increments to income getting smaller and smaller.
How does the multiplier process work in reality? The Refugee Migration Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) in Bangladesh has recently completed the first phase of a longitudinal research on the impact of external and internal migration on income and poverty in Bangladesh. The research is based on a survey of 5084 external, internal and non-migrant households from 102 villages. Among others, one of the most interesting is their findings on the impact of external migration on local level development through remittances and expenditure behavior of remittance recipients. Note that since the mid-1970s, Bangladesh has participated mostly in the short-term international labor markets of the Gulf and other Arab countries, as well as South East Asian countries. Over the last ten years, an average 500,000 workers have migrated abroad for work each year. Currently, an estimated 8 million Bangladeshi workers are on short-term migration abroad.
In 2013 the short-term international migrant (STIM) households on average received Tk 251,400 (over $3100) as remittance. The maximum amount received was Tk 4,400,000 and the minimum was Tk 6000. The study found international migration plays a significant role in reducing poverty. Only 13 percent of the STIM households were below the poverty line, compared with 40 percent of the non-migrant households. The survey particularly covered those groups that were either below poverty line, experienced occasional deficits, or ‘break-even’ situations at the time of their first international migration.
South Asia’s Commerce Ministers meet in Thimphu on July 24. Getting there would not have been easy for many of them, with no direct flights between Thimphu and four of the seven capitals. In June, when some of us convened for a regional meeting in Kathmandu, our Pakistani colleagues had to take a 20 hour flight from Karachi to Dubai in order to get to Kathmandu! This is symptomatic of the overall state of economic engagement within South Asia—in trade in goods and services, foreign direct investment and tourism.
South Asian countries’ trade policies remain inward-looking compared to other regions, and there are even bigger barriers to trade within the region. Today, South Asia today is less economically integrated than it was 50 years ago. Figure 1 below shows that intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for less than 5 percent of total trade, lower than any other region.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” said Batashi, a 13-year-old girl with an infectious smile, “But I had to leave school after class 3, there was no one else to look after my brothers.”
I met Batashi on a muggy afternoon in Korail, the largest slum in Dhaka city. Nestled in the shadows of the city’s glitzy condo buildings, Korail is home to 16,000 families that cram into just .25 square kilometers. Driven from their rural homes by poverty, about 500,000 people – roughly the population of Washington DC – migrate to the city each year.
This makes Dhaka one of the fastest growing cities in the world – a dubious honor for an already overstretched city. It is estimated that by 2030, close to 100 million people – almost half the population of Bangladesh – will be living in urban areas. Many of these migrants will inevitably end up in slums like Korail.