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Moving towards a 'Digital Bangladesh'

Rubaba Anwar's picture

“My country finally owns me!" was the delighted reaction from a high level private sector official to the possibility of a national identity system in Bangladesh. A lot of brain-wracking thought went into the possible economic benefits of such a project.

The sleepless nights of complicated financial analyses and exasperatingly fruitless brainstorming sessions that reach a point when you are not willing to say anything until you find something that will make the rest of them jump on their chairs, make things very difficult sometimes! But, the answer was there, short and simple. Such a refreshing start to an interview for the purpose of identifying the probable benefits to service delivery agencies of having access to a near-immaculate database of citizens, was hardly anticipated.

Rolling out robust, digitized national ID (NID) cards to 100 million citizens over a period of five years is the daunting task ahead for Identification System for Enhancing Access to Services (IDEA) Project. One may argue about the novelty offered by this initiative when Bangladeshi citizens with voting eligibility actually have NIDs since late 2008. A solid counter argument would be the “digitized nature” of the sophisticated NIDs of ‘digital Bangladesh’, enabling machine readability of biometric citizen information embedded in the card, as a replacement of the paper based, easily faked cards with little printed information and near-alien photos that gave rise to popular groups like I hate my NID photo” on Facebook!

Most Livable Slum

Mark Ellery's picture

Vancouver was rated as the most livable city in 2010. Is there any precedent of municipalities rating the livability of their slums?

Could a rating of the livability of slums leverage improved quality of services? For instance, in Bangladesh (where most slums are located on private land) poor services in slums are maintained because:

1. The Residents: are not so much illegal settlers as they are tenants renting accommodation. While they want improved services, they also know that better accommodation commands higher rents.
2. The Land Owner: does not invest in upgrading (as infrastructure is difficult to maintain) neither does he want to sell the land (as he will get far less than the land is actually worth) neither can he evict the residents (as middle-men are often housed on this land).
3. The Municipality: does not want to recognize these slums (because they do not have planning approval) neither does it want these residents evicted (as they constitute a sizeable vote bank).

If a municipality were to rank the livability of slums:
1. The Municipality: would gain popularity by recognizing the existence of these communities.
2. The Land Owners: would gain recognition for providing better living conditions for residents.
3. The Residents: would incur health & welfare benefits from the better living conditions.

Mister 100%

Mark Ellery's picture

As a policy target, there is little doubt that it is desirable that government should ensure services for all. Breaking this down to a simple target of 100% access to a service, some local governments are showing that ensuring services for all is achievable, when they deploy their social and legal authority to leverage existing service providers to ensure a basic service for all and then increase the quality of the service (i.e. 100% by 100%).

In the remote North West Corner of Bangladesh in the poor and monga (hunger) prone District of Kurrigram there is a remote yet remarkable upazila called Rajarhat. Rajarhat was the first upazila (subdistrict) in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free (i.e. 100% sanitation) in 2004. In the light of the Government’s target of education for all, the Rajarhat upazila (subdistrict) is now seeking to be the first upazila in the country to achieve universal enrollment (i.e. 100% of children turning 6 are enrolled in school).

To understand this phenomena we visited one of the Union Parishads (UP) (Council) called Omar Majid and spent some time with the UP Chairman Khanbaker Abdul Hakim. This Union Parishad claims to have achieved:

100% sanitation (achieved in 2004) sustained through ward task forces, hygiene education and public latrines with MGSK and WaterAid.
100% registration at birth (achieved in 2007) and subsequently introduced as a pre-requisite for the enrollment of children in school.