Rural community development in Bangladesh has led not only to socio-economic improvement, but has implications for social, economic and environmental systems, argues Mohammad Tarikul Islam (Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh)

Human security, a factor of non-traditional security, generally refers to the survival of individuals, community and even the world. Human security is the emerging paradigm for understanding global vulnerabilities, proponents of which challenge the traditional notion of national security by arguing that the proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state.

Rural community development in Bangladesh has led not only to socio-economic improvement, but has implications for social, economic and environmental systems. But increasing community dependency on outsiders’ help has contributed to the underdevelopment of rural Bangladesh, resulting in human insecurity in rural Bangladesh. The rural population faces critical issues of social, economic and environmental sustainability such as a significant decrease of water supply caused by significant loss of water resources (springs), recurrent natural disasters and probable impact of climate change. These issues lead to significant threats to agricultural and community livelihood.

Political security of the rural community is reflected only when they have access to the decision making process of local government, with freedom of choice for selection of their representatives. Local government (LG) of Bangladesh gives rural people opportunities to taste freedom and participation.

In 2015, there was a paradigm shift in the local government system when the Cabinet decided to hold local polls on a partisan basis. By changing the old practice of non-party polls at the local body level to the first-ever partisan poll, there are new challenges for political parties of Bangladesh. There are two schools of thought on this issue. According to the conservative school of thought, though it is a little early to settle on the party-based electoral system of local Union Parishads (UP), developments around the these elections is sending a wrong message. The volume of violence, the complaints related to nominations as well as corruption in the electoral system has been disheartening.

With UP elections held on a non-partisan basis in the past, many neutral and locally popular people had opportunities to be elected. This time, however, such people did not come forward. The wisdom behind the party-based model of UP elections is thus being questioned. According to the liberal school of thought, it has opened up an opportunity for the local people to be mindful in selecting their local leaders as well as engaging in the development process at the grassroots level. Party-based local government elections enable elected representatives to get the maximum benefit from the political government. The central political party in power can implement their agenda at the local level, with maximum backing of UP elected representatives.

The formal justice system in Bangladesh is under tremendous pressure with a large workload and inadequate number of officials and staff to dispose the cases. As a result, the case backlog stands at about half a million cases. Village courts under the UP, the lowest tier of the local government in Bangladesh, has been the alternative and accessible podium for the justice seeker in rural Bangladesh. The Village Courts Act of 2006, which replaced the outdated Village Courts Act of 1976, provides for the establishment of a village court in every UP. A related criticism of the village court is that it has little appreciation of the rule of law and serves to often enforce retrogressive norms.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country and disaster vulnerability poses a threat to human security, which is at risk as disasters render the community without food or shelter, impoverished, diseased, and displaced. The national disaster management institutional structure acknowledges the importance of the institutional presence up to the local level for comprehensive disaster management. UP Disaster Management Committee is an ideal platform at the heart of the community, but have under performed on account of incompetence of local elected representatives. In the context of rural Bangladesh, environmental degradation is a particular case of consumption externalities reflected by divergence between private and social costs (or benefits). This reflects in poor management of environmental security in rural Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government is striving to ensure access to basic health care and health services by setting up primary health care centres. The role of NGOs, particularly BRAC, in promoting primary health services for mothers and children is notable. One of its responsibilities involves providing health security to the rural population, which is a challenging task given that only 30% of Bangladeshis live in cities and there is limited infrastructure and a lack of health professionals in rural areas. Food security situation in rural Bangladesh has somewhat improved but further improvements on access and utilisation, to be sustainable and large-scale, needs renewed efforts from government, civil society organisations and the development partners. Issues of governance and accountability further thwart attempts at providing targeted safety nets and price stabilisation.

Community policing is an aiding vehicle that complements human security by building peace and ensuring safety and stability in the rural society. It is a collaborative effort between the police and the community that identifies problems of crime and disorder and involves all elements of the community in the search for solutions. Most communities, particularly those in rural areas, still have reservations about working with the police, resulting in lessening of the community policing. Ups are supposed to play a significant role in ensuring human security for people living in rural Bangladesh, but corruption, poor governance and lack of accountability are common in social safety net programs like Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), Old-age Allowance, Widow Allowance, and Disability Allowance.

Let the local community lead and power the social changes. While NGOs are still likely to be most concerned with the essentials of improving human development, becoming involved in human security initiatives helps to strengthen them as organisations and to reinforce and extend the contribution that they are able to make to the people with whom they already work. To make development truly meaningful, involving people directly in the formulation and implementation of decisions is the demand of hour.

This necessitates the decentralisation of democracy to the lowest level. Let political parties and relevant stakeholders including community people take lessons to overcome them for the greater interest of the nation. There is a need for a paradigm shift in government, from imposing development into facilitating rural development, from teaching local people to learning together with them. Mainstreaming human security to the existing mainstream rural development approaches is a must.

This piece originally appeared on the South Asia Monitor and can be read here.

This article gives the views of the author and not the position of South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured photo credit: Pixabay, Clker-Free-Vector-Images / 29588.
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam is an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow (Trinity Term-2018), Oxford. Dr. Islam previously served Local Government and Disaster Management Cluster of United Nations Development Programme for a period of seven years in different capacities.
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