External shocks affect households, communities and even entire regions and when these shocks occur it is the extreme poor who are most severely impacted and least able to recover. The shocks may be naturally occurring (e.g. cyclone, flood, river erosion) but are often man made including slum eviction, fire and the result of inter communal conflict.
The Shiree experience of working with over 150,000 extreme poor households indicates that many have been catapulted deeper into poverty through naturally occurring disasters such as repeated displacement through river erosion or flood. Two major cyclones, Aila and Sidr, as well as severe waterlogging caused by tidal surge left thousands of families in the Southern coastal belt stranded on embankments. While many of those with assets, savings, support networks with multiple income earners will have recovered their economic livelihood, it is the extreme poor who are most vulnerable and for whom these shocks can propel them into a dependency on humanitarian relief.
In urban areas slum eviction and frequently occurring fires are two types of externally induced shock that can have no less devastating impact than that of a natural disaster. Again families are uprooted, assets are frequently lost, injury can occur, livelihoods are lost and families become fragmented. The extreme poor are particularly vulnerable to both environmental and manmade shocks, especially given their highly insecure position, complete absence of formal or informal insurance and inability to plan for the future. They lack the means to mitigate the potential damage of floods, droughts, cyclones, fires, and eviction because they have little or no savings, insurance or access to other safety nets.
While major natural disasters are normally followed by extensive humanitarian relief efforts these distributions are often little more than a means of survival and the extreme poor face the same constraints in accessing these benefits as they do all other public resources. Given climate change and rapid urbanisation the frequency of both naturally induced rural and human induced urban disasters is likely to increase. The status of both urban and rural extreme poor families is the barometer of success for Bangladesh in facing climate change and the challenges of urbanisation.
If the numbers of extreme poor households in climate vulnerable regions such as the coastal belt and in the urban areas, increases there is no prospect of Bangladesh achieving Millennium Development Goal 1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
What should be done to address this challenge?
Shiree is currently consulting with stakeholders and recognized experts in this field in order to develop a consolidated list of priority recommendations that can form the core prescriptive element of the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor – with the aim of these being presented to all of those with potential access to power and resources. The consultation deadline is fixed for September 30, 2012, after which the Manifesto will be drafted.