March 11, 2008

Poverty in Bangladesh

Poverty in Bangladesh in the eyes of an expat Ashley Wheaton:
Living in a country like Bangladesh constantly forces me to redraw the lines around my mental conception of poverty. A factory worker seems hard done by until you meet the construction worker. The construction worker earns your sympathy until you see the child collecting trash. The child is then outdone by a disabled beggar... When I was not immersed in this reality it was easy to treat them all as poor, to condemn all of the conditions they faced as equally bad. But in reality the poverty here is extremely complex and it isn't realistic or meaningful to treat each person's poverty as if it were the same.
Yes, poverty is really a complex thing. It all depends on where you set the standard. If you go to a village you will find the simplicity of a living. They may not have TV refrigerator or even electricity but they are surviving. They can still live an eventful life with their sorrows, joys, love and patriotism. A village family's monthly expense can be less than what a rich family dines in a restaurant in the capital in one night. Yet if you compare those riches with a rich people in a Western country they will be outclassed.

In the West there are also poor people but you can barely notice them. Its not only that they are protected by social security, but there is hardly any difference of appearance between rich and poor.

Except for the über rich people (who have their limos and jets) people do not show off their richness to others. They don't have maids at home, they are not more shiny in appearance than the less well-offs. Even you cannot distinguish between a day-labor and a rich lawyer in the streets as they are treated as equals.

But the picture is different in Bangladesh. There is a pseudo class notion among the people. Ask anyone from a village, their goal is to be rich one day to have maids and cars to show off. From lower income class to middle class, upper middle class to rich every body dreams to oppress the lower class; there is no sense of equality. And that is why the poverty is so complex and ugly. Because there is a competition to be richer and show off your shiny cloth, assets in every strata of society. So you get a hierarchy of poors, a million dollar mansion overshadowed by slums beside it. And nobody seem to care about others.

Shawn, who came to Bangladesh to do something about poverty finds out this reality:
"With an estimated 80% of the country surviving on less than $2 a day, Bangladesh is sharply divided between those struggling to survive and those living it up. Being rich, in Bangladesh typically means being insulated and detached from the tragedies that fall upon the country.

The rich tend to congregate in Dhaka City where they live in up-scale apartment complexes and homes. These are strategically built on higher ground, in gated communities, with their own backup generators and reserve water tanks. Most of the urban rich do not have to worry about driving, cooking, or cleaning as it is relatively inexpensive for them to hire chauffeurs, cooks, and maids. Having lived in this country for the past six months, I have observed that the typical routine for rich Bangladeshis is to stay sheltered at home during floods, riots, and curfews and then - when it is all over - resume daily activities as if nothing has happened."
Its true that the recent inflation is taking the toll of the poor and the rich and political elites of the country seem to be not effected by it and are not doing much to tackle it.

Shawn prescribes:
The first step to solving a problem - is to admit there is one. Refusing to acknowledge or publicly speak about P O V E R T Y in Bangladesh keeps us further away from solving it.
And poverty can be fought only if it is possible to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and sense of equality established.