National poverty reduction plans have traditionally focused on the rural poor while urban poor communities continue to be overlooked by policy makers in many cases. Efforts are underway, however, to tackle the issue. In 2008, the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) was initiated, with the goal of lifting three million urban poor and extreme poor people out of poverty by 2015 in 23 cities and towns across the country.
The 2010 Household Income and Expenditure Survey found that the urban poverty rate in Bangladesh was 21.3 per cent, equivalent to about 9.4 million people. This includes over 3 million extremely poor. However, by focusing on what households earn and spend only, the survey does not reflect the full reality of urban poverty in Bangladesh. Income poverty is made worse by a lack of access to basic services and limited opportunities for education and employment, especially for women and girls. Millions of Bangladeshis live in poor urban households, in inadequate and insecure houses, often in unsanitary conditions without basic water and sanitation facilities. Lack of employment opportunities for low skilled workers often prevents the poor from earning a stable income, while limited access to education and health services exacerbate the situation by making the accumulation of human capital difficult. Little or no social protection makes the urban poor even more vulnerable to external shocks and increases the risk of falling deeper into poverty. With one of the highest urbanization rates in Asia, the situation continues to worsen for an increasing number of urban poor in Bangladesh.
Giving communities control over poverty reduction
UPPR used a community-based approach led by mostly poor and extremely poor women, who are empowered to manage their development to meet their own needs and those of their family and community, and as a result, overcome poverty and the barriers to be part of the city. UPPR’s theory of change for reducing poverty in poor urban settlements built upon the understanding that communities themselves are best placed to judge what their main priorities are and who amongst them is most in need of support. In particular, the UPPR approach was about creating space for the most vulnerable members of the communities, especially the poor and extremely poor women, and empowering them to make these decisions and implement solutions.
Moving forward on poverty reduction with a multi-sectoral approach
In UPPR, we believe that all aspects of poverty, including education, health, nutrition and employment, should be addressed in parallel. Multi-dimensional poverty requires an integrated response. As such, UPPR supported mobilised communities to bring about change, for example with the help of two funds that finance the interventions that communities have deemed urgent and necessary. Through the Settlement Improvement Fund (SIF), UPPR provided direct monetary inputs to the communities so that they can contract the necessary works for physical improvements in their neighbourhoods. Placing communities at the centre of this process ensures that infrastructure development and service delivery meets the needs and priorities of the poor, especially women and children, in the urban slums. Interventions included the extension of drains and footpaths, the construction of latrines, reservoirs and water dwells to improve sanitation and hygiene conditions, and to improve access to roads and markets. In addition, UPPR's Socio-Economic Fund (SEF) provided the necessary funds to finance activities that improved the livelihoods and social conditions of urban poor. These grants included, apprenticeships and training, grants for small business development, education grants to keep girls in school, and grants for urban food production activities.