Car horns blast in the hazy darkness. It is 10pm. Babu is waiting to make his bed. ‘This is where I sleep,’ he says quietly in Bengali. Next to Babu’s bed, a fetid dark liquid scattered with scraps of litter oozes from the cracks in the road. To use the public toilets, they have to pay – so most of these children squat in the open. (Adams, 2010). Poverty in Bangladesh is deep and widespread, and the sociological impacts it creates can be both crippling and devastating, for the Bangladeshis caught up in the vicious poverty cycle!
Babu is four years old, and lives parentless, in one of the world’s most densely populated countries – Bangladesh, where almost half of the population live in poverty. One of the key causes of poverty in Bangladesh lies with the country’s geographical and demographic features. The impacts of Bangladesh’s poverty create an array of sociological issues and problems, which leaves many of its people and communities caught in the “poverty trap”. Bangladesh’s geography makes it vulnerable to severe flooding, cyclones and other natural disasters. It is a low-lying riverine nation, in South Asia.
Much of the country is situated on the flood plains of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. The majority of the population is predominantly rural, with the main employer being agriculture. But there are many people and not enough land to support everyone. (Stearman, 2002, P. 5). Most land in Bangladesh is very flat fertile flood plain. The many rivers and frequent rain, deposit fertile soil along the banks and water the country’s crops. Some flooding is beneficial to agriculture, but too much flooding can be a hazard on agricultural growth. Many of the floods cause widespread destruction in the rural villages.
The fast growing population rate also places huge pressure on the environment, causing problems such as erosion and flooding, which in turn leads to low agricultural productivity. I don’t think we can blame fate, nature or God for our troubles. The real problem in Bangladesh is not the natural disasters. It is the widespread poverty, which is a man-made phenomenon. (Yunus, 2008). The social implications of these natural disasters can be debilitating for the Bangladeshis who seek their livelihoods in these unsafe and flood prone areas. For most, these are the only areas with accommodation they can afford.
For the many that live in areas prone to extreme flooding, crops, homes and livelihoods are always at risk. The majority of these remote rural areas lack services such as education, health clinics and proper roads that lead to markets. Most Bangladeshis living in these areas already suffer from regular food insecurity, landlessness, no education, illness and disability. Natural disasters cause a loss of income and assets. They also create outbreaks of cholera, dengue and malaria. When natural disasters hit, many Bangladeshis resort to moneylenders so they can rebuild their homes and start over.
This puts them at risk of falling deeper into poverty. Many become ill and cannot work, and many are unable to receive proper healthcare. Some just die. Cyclones, floods and tidal surges occur in other countries. In most, they do not cause human misery of the magnitude we see in Bangladesh. The reason is that, in these countries, the people are rich enough to build protective systems and strong embankments. Rivers in Canada, England and France have tidal surges similar to those in Bangladesh, but dredging and causeway construction have minimized their effects and the threat to human life.
More recently, the demographics of rural and urban communities are beginning to shift. Although Bangladesh’s population is still mainly rural, environmental refugees are fleeing from the flooding in the rural areas, and looking for employment in the major cities. It is also feared that widespread unemployment will lead to further urban migration. Recent reports claim that each day around 3,000 flood affected people are migrating to Dhaka, Bangladesh’s largest city. Professor Atiur Rahman of the Department of Development Studies at Dhaka University said that “this is frightening.
Dhaka does not have the space, neither physical nor economic, for so many people. If the flow continues for more than a month we should prepare ourselves to face a catastrophe. ”(O’Murchu, 2007). This urban migration is creating a homeless crisis, with thousands of pavement dwellers, (like Babu), living on the streets of Dhaka. These environmental refugees arrive and find themselves prey to other dangers. As Babu tries to rest, a crowd gathers and a piercing wail begins. A distraught woman emerges from the darkness, a baby clutched to her chest, pleading for help and tugging at the clothes of those around her. My daughter has gone,” she cries. “I have lost my five-year-old girl.
Who has taken her? Have you seen her? ” The crowd surges but the woman runs back into the night. We cannot find her. The onlookers seem unaffected. They say children regularly go missing. (Adams, 2010). Although poverty in the urban areas is not as high as in the rural areas (mainly because of demographics), urban regions still incur a high rate of poverty, due to limited employment opportunities and dense population. Urban slums are popular and overcrowded, and experience a degraded environment, with bad housing and sanitation.
The urban poor hold jobs that are labour intensive, and this usually affects their health conditions. Bangladesh is also a country trying to change. The country is trying to diversify its economy, with industrial development a priority. (Troyjo, 2012). Thus, in summary, it can be seen that presently, rural poverty is more prominent than urban poverty, and this is because of current demographics and agriculture still being the main employer. However, the recent trend in shifting population from rural to urban; indicates that rapid urbanisation is occurring.
Environmental refugees make up a large proportion of the population shift, and are a contributing factor to the rapid urbanisation. This indicates that the rural region can not satisfy job demand, and that it is becoming too difficult to reside and keep a livelihood in rural regions. Bangladesh itself is trying to diversify its economy, and is making industrial development a priority. However, Mohamed Yunis makes a good point, that it is the widespread poverty which is the real problem, and not the natural disasters.
He also points out solutions that other countries put in place to combat the same disasters experienced in their countries. We have also discussed the social impacts of rural poverty, and found that the standard of living of the impoverished is well below what should be humanely acceptable. It is obvious that the impoverished lack access to health and education, and are more prone to poor health and general well being. Their circumstances also put them at greater risk of being exploited.
Therefore after examining and exploring the causes and impacts of poverty, regardless of who has or has not created or dealt appropriately with the poverty problem in Bangladesh, it is clear that Bangladesh does suffer from a severe poverty problem, and its geographical features are a key contributor to this poverty, in both rural and urban areas. It is also clear that the sociological impacts and consequences of the affected individuals and communities living in poverty are real, and one could say they are being denied their basic human rights.