Towards shock-responsive urban social protection in Bangladesh
In the next national budget, Bangladesh must prioritize urban social protection, expansion of open market systems and a shock-responsive urban social security system to address the climate crisis
Sarah Amena Khan. TBS Sketch
Sarah Amena Khan. TBS Sketch
At the same time, more frequent and intense weather-related disasters are displacing rural populations to urban areas such as Dhaka. Studies estimate that one in seven people will likely be displaced by climate change by 2050. Additionally, major coastal cities such as Dhaka and Chattogram could also become less hospitable. According to a 2018 World Bank study on internal climate migration in South Asia, these cities are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, the effects of storm surges and heavy flooding. Covid-19 has already exposed the flaws in Bangladesh’s urban welfare system. This underscores why investments need to be made now that include cities beyond Dhaka and Chattogram.
Bangladesh already has the blueprint for transition to such a system – the long-term national social security strategy and action plan. This includes expanding social assistance coverage and introducing social insurance programs in urban areas. Some forms of social assistance programs for children, the elderly and people with disabilities are already being considered as part of ongoing reforms.
However, simply extending or duplicating rural welfare programs will not address the distinct vulnerabilities of people living in urban areas. They face higher living costs, multiple aspects of deprivation and more insecure employment opportunities.
Social protection reforms focusing on employment policies and social insurance are also key priorities alongside social safety nets, as highlighted in Bangladesh’s 8th Five-Year Plan. As noted earlier, the pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable urban households. Adults working in these households are likely to be self-employed, informally employed, or in unprotected, low-income formal sectors. They need help to protect their incomes and jobs, especially in crisis contexts. Here, the gender needs of women require serious attention.
Taking note, Bangladesh plans to introduce social insurance schemes (e.g. unemployment insurance schemes) for formal and informal workers under a pilot national social insurance scheme under the national social security strategy. However, the benefits are more likely to flow to formally employed workers who can afford to help invest in their own security compared to those working in the informal economy.
Given the new realities and drawing on international experience, Bangladesh can explore how to introduce and expand affordable social insurance schemes to all working adults, helping to reduce their insecurity. .
Here, partnerships will be key to designing and implementing such urban-specific and shock-responsive programs, especially during emergencies. Bangladesh can benefit from the partnerships established between the Local Government Division and development actors working on urban poverty. For example, UNDP’s Urban Poor Communities Livelihood Improvement Project (LIUPCP) is one of the country’s largest urban poverty reduction initiatives.
Similarly, the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be critical in piloting small-scale programs to better understand what works for vulnerable urban households. Partnerships with insurance industry players in Bangladesh will also be crucial moving forward.
Sarah Amena Khan is a development practitioner.
Warning: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.