Lifting Millions Out of Ultra Poverty

Mahuaba, a poor sexagenarian woman in Ishwarpur village of Bangladesh’s northern Rangpur district, was breaking down repeatedly while recalling economic hardships she had faced in her life.

But the tears were not of sadness, but of happiness that she had finally seen an end of the days when meals thrice a day was a luxury.  All this happened as the widow was taken into a programme of Brac last year specially designed for the ultra poor who are unable to benefit from traditional development interventions like microfinance.

Brac said as of 2015, a number of 1.6m ultra poor households in Bangladesh have been successfully covered by the programme. The NGO cites a study that shows 95% of the coverage graduated out of ultra poverty. In 2016 the TUP programme targets to include 93,000 households suffering from extreme poverty. The programme uses two approaches to address the situation considering that the poverty has different dimensions and realities.

The Specially Targeted Ultra Poor (STUP) strategy is specially designed to help build livelihoods of the poorest segment of the population and develop their human capabilities through a comprehensive package of interventions known as Special Investment Programme. This includes full asset grants, life skills and enterprise development training, stipend, tailor-made healthcare, intensive hand holding and community support. The Other Targeted Ultra Poor (OTUP) strategy represents groups which is marginally less deprived than the STUP, but are still firmly among the ultra poor.

OTUP members are supported by utilising the Grant Plus Credit Support, throughout a comprehensive package of interventions similar to that one of STUP with the exception of not providing assets, but supporting them by soft loans. Sagarika Indu, TUP programme manager, explained that when the households achieve economic and social progress in their life fulfilling some important criteria set by the programme, they are called “graduate” from ultra poverty.

Among the criteria are having food security, multiple income sources, income generating assets, school going children and sanitation, Sagarika said. Brac said the graduation approach consists of six complementary components: one-time transfer of productive assets (cow, goat etc), training to manage the assets, regular cash or food support for a period, access to savings account, frequent home visits by programme staff and health education and healthcare access.

International Growth Centre of London School of Economics launched a study paper assessing the TUP programme in December, 2015 with the title “Transforming the economic lives of the ultra-poor.”

It said after four years of intervention the programme resulted in a 9% increase in per-capita non-durable consumption and a decline of 8.4 percentage points in the number of households living on less than $1.25 per day. It found that during the period the household cash savings increased nearly nine-fold, the value of household assets more than doubled and the household saving rate increased by 25 percentage points from an initial value of close to zero. The paper evaluates that the change in spending on non-durables was 2.5 times higher after seven years than after four, and the increase in the land access doubled.

Dhaka Tribune, May 24, 2016.