The poverty rate in Bangladesh has come down to below 20% as per the government and some private organisations, but the people of Jamalpur are still bearing the burden of poverty due to a lack of employment and natural disasters such as river erosion and floods.
Experts say while many areas of the country including the capital Dhaka achieved major socio-economic changes by coming out from agrarian economy through industrialisation, that has not happened to some districts including Jamalpur.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the poverty rate in the district is 52.5%.
As per World Bank data, more than two crore people in Bangladesh have come out of poverty in the last two decades. However, the fate of most of the families in Jamalpur like Zahurul Islam and Zakir Hossain has not changed.
Zahurul, a day labourer, lives with his seven-member family including his parents, wife and three children in a small house in Melandaha upazila of the district. The damp tin-shed house does not have enough space to accommodate all of them properly. Some of them sleep on a bamboo bed and the others on the floor. As his earnings are not enough, the family cannot afford three meals every day.
Zakir works in the field of other people to meet the expenses of his family consisting wife and two children. But he can work only for 75 to 80 days a year during the paddy season and green crops. He remains jobless during the other months of the year. The family can hardly eat two meals during that period.
He took a loan of Tk10,000 from Brac eight years ago for cattle farming. However, he failed to do that. The unpaid loan has reached sky-high.
Apart from Melandaha, poverty has its bitter presence in the villages of other upazilas of the district as well.
A field visit to the district reveals that most of the families there cannot afford sufficient food. Spendings on basic needs like health, education and clothing are very marginal.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, former adviser of the caretaker government and chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) is working on poverty in the country. He said, "One of the reasons for the backwardness of these areas is the lack of employment. In poverty-prone districts, people do not have work all through the year. And when there is work, you get lower wages."
"There are also irregularities in the social security programmes run by the government. Natural disasters, lack of education, health problems are also among the reasons for their backwardness," he said.
Amanullah, a former member of Charshuva Union Parishad in Madarganj upazila, lives in a dilapidated house in the Guchchhogram Project of the government with his nine-member family. The two-room house is so worn out that when it rains, water gets inside.
"I am living in this dilapidated house as I do not have enough land to build a house of my own. I do not earn any money. My two sons work in a brick kiln and together they earn Tk9.000-10,000 per month. This money does not cover the daily expenses of my family," Amanullah told The Business Standard.
Around 600 families live in the Char Kamaria village where Amanullah lives now. Most of them are victims of river erosion. Most of them do not own any land in the village. Most of the males work as day-labourers on the lands of some influential people around 40-45 days a year. As the number of workers is high, the wage is very low. Many children of the village work in brick kilns.
Bakul Mia, 65, a resident of the village, said, "We have been unable to get out of poverty due to lack of land and job opportunities. The help that the government provides for the poor is not enough. As a result, most of the people in this village cannot eat regularly except during the working season."
River erosion and floods are major reasons behind poverty
Hajera Khatun lives in a small tin-shed house beside the road in Charshuva village of Madarganj. She has been living there since last year after losing her previous home in the erosion of the Jamuna River. As she does not have any land of her own, she has built a house on government land.
"My family has been a victim of river erosion six times in the last 20 years. After an erosion, you can build a house with great difficulty in another place, but that too is lost when the river chases you again. Both my father's and in-law's families are victims of erosion and floods. As a result, we are becoming poorer by the day," she said.
According to local people, the waters of the Jamuna, Brahmaputra, Dashani and Jinjiram rivers rise every year and cause erosion and floods. Many houses, croplands and fishing ponds in several upazilas including Madarganj, Islampur and Melandaha submerged in the floods. As a result, the people of this region are becoming poorer.
Hossain Zillur Rahman said floods and river erosion are major obstacles in changing the fortunes of the people in the region. "The poverty situation is not improving in some districts due to lack of initiative considering local demand and potential."
Mursheda Zaman, the deputy commissioner of Jamalpur, thinks that the district's backwardness in industrialisation is the reason behind poverty among the people living there.
She said, "Several initiatives have been taken to alleviate poverty in Jamalpur district including setting up an economic zone. The situation in the district will change in the next five years. Jamalpur will no longer be a poverty-stricken district."