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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 240
October 15, 2011

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Human Rights Monitor

Right to food: no more a myth

Fayazuddin Ahmad

The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, have the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement..." (General Comment 12, ICESCR)

"The States Parties to the present Covenant... shall take... the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed: (a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources; (b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need." (Article 11, ICESCR)

Article 15 of the Bangladesh Constitution says- "...it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth... with a view to securing to its citizens- (a) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food... ".

In reality Bangladesh- still is- second highest followed by Timor in Asia and higher than India and Pakistan (Global Hunger Index). Till today about 50% of the population- here- lives on less than USD 1 a day. Both indicators prove that Bangladesh is increasingly more vulnerable to food insecurity as well as extreme poverty. The villagers in rural areas are exposed to extreme impoverishment with food & nutrition insecurity and government social security programs are far away from the reality.

To ensure citizens right to food by transforming their lives living in extreme impoverishment with almost no right to food- there are several initiatives going on since last two decades e.g. the strengthening household ability to respond to development opportunities- SHOUHARDO, economic empowerment of the poorest - EEP, char livelihood programme- CLP etc. There had been collaborations among the government agencies, development partners and NGOs- developing and implementing rights-based development food & nutrition security model.

All these models are based on citizens' rights with responsive government and have some major focuses- they are- creating better livelihood opportunities, ensuring improved health-hygiene & nutrition, establishing women's empowerment, strengthening institutions for quality governance and adapting climate changes following indigenous methods with reducing disaster risks. Most of them are based on community engagement with exemplary leadership-based actions- proving once again- it is 'we' who could change 'our' lives. In the following we'll look into such two examples from SHOUHARDO to realize better how this is happening.

Scenario 1- Baghmara is one the remotest village of Rowmary in Kurigram. There is only one road which is connected the people of Baghmara with all parts of the country. This May 2011- the community people were motivated to develop an action plan on different issues which was achievable and manageable with immediate and long-run benefits. Among the seventeen identified problems, the villagers chose their problem in relation with communication as a quick win and took actions accordingly. They decided to construct a bamboo bridge over river Sonabhori which was one of their major problem for a long period.

Around 150 women and men formed a committee of 11 who would be the management committee to implement the intervention. They chalked out a plan with their own resources and distributed the responsibilities among the management committee to mobilize their resources. Some gave materials; some gave cash while some other their labor. And they constructed a 450 ft bamboo bridge spending USD 3500 from their own resources.

10 villages in total came within the communication area with each other where about 9000 HHs are benefiting from this bridge. This eliminated about 1000 students' hardship going to schools during the rainy season. Moreover, it was impossible to communicate with the sub-district level Health Centre for services for pregnant and lactating mother during the rainy season. Now about 500 pregnant mothers will receive the various health services all year round. Almost all the inhabitants of adjacent 5 villages now got the opportunity to accede to the local market with their huge production where they did not get actual market price on their production in previous days.

After successfully accomplishing this initiative- people of the surrounding areas begun to come to see the bridge. They all were inspired by the intervention and already started the same in their community. A small initiative turned into a flame that is still burning the community in form of affirmative transformations.

Scenario 2- Community-based agro-volunteers prepared a short term action plan with the aim to initiate activities leaded by community people. Fruit tree plantation, vegetables cultivation, compost pit preparation, cattle vaccination etc. were among the focused options. In few weeks after their return the transformation was clearly visible and one after other remarkable successes was reported building a movement at the community level. Different initiative was taken in different villages with assistance from the village VDC, volunteer and program staffs.

Vegetables and fruit tree plantation at individual household level, compost pits preparation, cattle vaccination, school based plantation, pond bank agriculture including fish culture were initiated. With token funds- community people gave their physical labour, donate different materials like bamboo, rope, stick etc to make these initiative successful. It has also created demonstration effect among other adjacent communities as they have already realized the knock-on effects of aforesaid activities.

These examples clearly shows that with minimum cooperation of the government, development partners and non-government entities- common citizens are working towards establishing their right to food. And as a result at the macro-sphere, Bangladesh is most likely to be showcased at the upcoming Group of Eight (G8) summit in Canada and Asia Food Security Investment Forum in the Philippines as a model among developing countries due to its success in steadfastly pursuing sustainable food security. In the past decade especially, Bangladesh has made impressive economic and social progress towards achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals. Overcoming challenges to food security has played and continues to play a significant role in the development agenda of Bangladesh. According to IFPRI's 2009 GHI, food security has improved in Bangladesh since 1990, with the country moving from an extremely alarming to an alarming level of hunger. The proportion of undernourished in Bangladesh fell from 36 percent of the population to 26 percent in 2006.

The author is an Advocate & Socio-legal Analyst.



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