2 lakh unregistered Rohingyas being exploited : UN expert She is unhappy at way poverty being fought

UNB, Dhaka
Bangladesh must design an integrated and comprehensive social protection strategy as poverty reduction strategies, particularly the ones related to social safety net programmes, are being implemented in a disconcertingly fragmented manner, said a UN independent expert Thursday.

Magdalena Sepulveda, the UN Independent expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, said poverty remains very high, particularly in rural areas, despite progress in poverty reduction during the last decade.

“Around 40 per cent of the population is still poor of which at least 20 per cent live in extreme poverty,” she said.

Magdalena Sepulveda and another UN independent expert on water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque carried out the joint study from December 1 to 10 in some areas of the country. They held a press conference at a city hotel yesterday afternoon to reveal their findings along with some recommendations to the government.

The two experts visited Ralmat Camp, Wapda building and Rupnagar in Mirpur, and Korail and Kamrangir Char in Dhaka, Kutu Palong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Moradnagar and Comilla.

They also had meetings with the Prime Minister and secretaries and high officials of various ministries as well meeting with UN agencies, donor community and civil society organizations.

The duo will present their report on this visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010.

Magdalena Sepulveda said 200,000 Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh just outside camps with no registration or legal status which results in their exploitation and inability to access basic services and access to justice as well.

She suggested the government to consider some form of registration for this community with a view to ensuring their protection from exploitation.

Referring to her visit to Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, the UN independent expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty said the refugees from Myanmar are living in extremely difficult condition and welcomed the solidarity of the government and the gradual improvement in the refugee camps wherein 28,000 refugees live.

She said Bangladesh has experienced significant economic growth in the past 15 years but the economic growth of the country is not yet reaching its poorest citizens. “Even if poverty indicators point to a decline in poverty, some regions are lagging behind and segments of the population are not reaping the benefits. So, inequality is on the rise.”

Over the last decades, she said, Bangladesh has been recognized for its efforts in poverty reduction through initiatives implemented by the state as well as by civil society organizations, especially in microfinance and social safety net. “However, much more needs to be done to reach the poorest of the poor.”

On slum people, she said the government must provide slum dwellers with security of tenure. “Forced eviction is contrary to the obligations imposed by the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

Prior to evicting anyone, she said, the state must explore all feasible alternatives in consultation with the affected people and eviction must not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of human rights.

She emphasized coordination among ministries, civil society organizations and donor agencies as it is essential to realize all components of a social protection strategy which includes ensuring access to social services, providing social assistance like safety nets and protecting labour standard for all.

She felt alarmed by the condition of people living in extreme poverty. Admitting the government’s resource constraint, she urged the international community to continue its support to Bangladesh’s poverty reduction. “Nonetheless, the government can do more within its limited resources to fight extreme poverty.”

Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN independent expert on water and sanitation, said Bangladesh has made substantial achievements in ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation to all. “The commitment of the government to ensure safe drinking water for all by 2011 and sanitation by 2013 is laudable.”

Regarding sanitation, she however said though Bangladesh has made great progress but still 64 percent of the population has no access to safe drinking water.

Referring to difficult living condition of slum people, she said rights of slum dwellers must be recognized. “This is not a matter of charity, but a legal entitlement.”

She also expressed unhappiness for the lack of wastewater treatment in Bangladesh saying that faeces, urine and industrial waste are polluting rivers and other surface water of the country, and threatening the quality of drinking water as well as the overall environment.

She suggested the government to continue and strengthen its efforts to identify alternative sustainable water sources in the entire country.

Catarina de Albuquerque urged the government to establish an independent regulator for water and wastewater that would inter alia be component for establishing water tariffs, controlling water quality and ensuring access for all.

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