Nearly 10 million people took shelter in numerous refugee camps in India during the1971 bloodbath. Many private initiatives emerged right then just to help those helpless people voluntarily. Today we call them ‘Non-Governmental Organisations or NGOs.
Right after the great liberation war of Bangladesh, the country’s poverty rate was 80 per cent. The birth rate was 47 and the mortality rate was 19.2 per thousand in 1972. The average lifetime for a man was only 47 years back then. Many of our mothers died of giving birth and we could do so little to save them.
The NGOs were there, helping those distressed people. From the right way of washing hands to birth control, they did many things. They literally went to every household to teach the basics of life.
A total of 25,879 projects have been taken all over Bangladesh in the past 28 years that have involved around US$11 billion. These projects saw the percentage of users of safe drinking water rise. From 2000 to 2012, number of people who used to drink Arsenic-contaminated water went down by 12.2 per cent. Thirty four per cent of Bangladeshi people didn’t have access to proper sanitation in 1990 and the percentage came down to only 1.0 per cent by 2015. The NGOs have played a major role in alliance with the government and other entities in making the progress happen.
Currently, some 19,000 local and foreign NGOs are operating in Bangladesh. Almost 4,000 NGOs are directly operating microcredit programmes and among these, 746 NGOs are registered with MRA (Microcredit Regulatory Authority).
Microcredit has brought wonders to our rural economy. These registered NGOs have disbursed Tk 201.91 billion in our rural economy so far and the outstanding loan amount is Tk 673.90 billion; which is still in use of many income generation activities and improvement of livelihoods of the rural people.
As many as 31.2 million people are directly involved in these programmes which we call ‘microfinance’. From 2017 to 2018, the number of borrowers increased by 14.91 per cent and disbursement of loans increased by 37.23 per cent.
Microcredit programmes are still relevant because NGOs give loans to those people who are termed as ‘not credit worthy’ by commercial banks. Without any mortgage and hassle of formal documentation, the NGOs are supplying money to the rural economy. They also teach them how to use that money with proper training and supervision.
During this pandemic, the inflow of foreign remittances has come as a surprise to the people. Remittance stands as the nation’s second highest source of earning foreign currency. Whereas it was projected that the flow of remittance would drop by 14 per cent all over the world, remittance inflow into Bangladesh had increased as much as 8 per cent till September, 2020.
Ten NGOs took permission from the regulatory body, MRA, for collecting remittances in 2013 and they have been performing efficiently as the NGOs have easiest access to the furthest corners of the country where commercial Banks haven’t reached yet.
In 2008 itself, organisations like PKSF and Bangladesh Rural Development Board disbursed Tk 293.65 billion as agricultural loan which was 224 per cent higher than all banks and other formal financial institutions altogether disbursed.
The net food production of Bangladesh was 11.64 million tonnes in 1991; it reached 42.11 million tones in 2019. The NGOs have some credit in this regard.
More than 90 per cent of the people who take loans from NGOs on regular basis are women. A total of seven NGOs carried out awareness campaign against the ‘Acid Terror’ spending Tk 15.1 million.
Child marriage and population growth
Child marriage problem was acute in our villages and the NGOs made interventions there too. The rate of maternal death and infant mortality has decreased significantly due to a decrease in the child marriage rate. Although these problems still remain, NGOs are still working on making improvement.
Population growth rate in Bangladesh was 2.49 per cent in 1971 which now stands at 1.37. The government worked with the NGOs to make people aware about family planning. With the ESP (Essential Services Package) Programme implemented by the government, the NGOs worked as ‘depots’ to stockpile the birth control commodities and reached people in all parts of the country.
Primary Education is something we have made huge progress in; but in terms of quality education, we have to go a long way. In this regard, BRAC reached almost 3.2 million students with their non-formal learning and pre-primary school programmes. ‘Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation’ is overseeing 202 unions through their ‘Enrich’ programme. A total of 172,314 students have been provided with learning opportunities on a regular basis by the local teachers after school, under this programme.
The dropout rate of primary school students has come down to 0.06 per cent in these unions. ‘CDIP’ has 2670 such schools and they are supervising 54,212 students daily. ‘Dhaka Ahsania Mission’ is also in charge of 206,000 students with their ‘Unique’ programme. Ninety eight per cent of the country’s children are now enrolled with primary schools and 51 per cent of them are girls.
From washing hands to creating mass awareness against climate change, the NGOs are active everywhere. Thirty four NGOs have spent almost Tk 2.726 billion.
Almost 150,000 NGOs are working relentlessly in a developed country like America. This proves relevance of NGOs to any country in the world. However, method of working may change in future as they might not need to be told to wash hands or use a sanitary toilet.
Still the NGOs can intervene in addressing the issue of increasing suicides offering the emotionally vulnerable people much-needed assistance. The NGOs can contribute to fighting against climate change, addressing unemployment, gender and income inequality, and so on. The NGOs are capable of doing all the unthinkable in in areas where society needs and the government needs their support.
Mir Md. Tasnim Alam is a development practitioner.