Assignment On Monga

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May be our eyes and minds have become so habituated with the
everyday news and stories, which we find in newspaper or television screen that
we hardly recognize the issue. Yes, this is about ‘Monga’, a near-famine
situation. During the Bangla month of “Kartik” i.e. mid October to mid
November, marginal and landless farmers face an economic crisis. This crisis
stems from lack of non-agricultural incline season. This yearly incident is
called “Monga”, a near famine situation that results in severe food crisis for
the people of the northern part of Bangladesh. Millions of women, children and
men face agonizing poverty. Some of them die, some commit suicide. ‘Kochu’,
‘Ghechu’ ‘Kainjal’ (water based plants and leaves) and other inedible items
become the only means to survive for those who would dare fight until the end.
Epidemics break out. Robbery, theft, trafficking, sex trade, blackmailing and
other incidences of violence further endanger their life.

However, to our disappointment, we find that although the
crisis has become a regular incident hitting the same people in the same area,
there have not been any significant initiatives taken to prevent monga by the
government, political parties or NGOs. Rather, they have been subjected to
severe criticisms for the indifference and laziness in taking relief operations
or long-term measures to the effected areas. Sad but true, rather than
considering it as an emergency or rights- faced issue, the government
initiatives represent some ambiguity to decide whether “monga” falls within the
category of natural disaster, for each the collection of Tk. 75 crore to fight
the challenges of natural disasters has been left unutilized.

(Source: state, the monthly magazine
of New Age, December, 2005)

I think, now “Monga” is not a
regional problem, it becomes a national problem. Because the people of our
country pass their day, without food and for this we are unable to make our
country more developed. It is a fundamental right to every citizen to be free
from hunger, poverty & starvation. But in our country many people pass
their days and nights without having any food. I think the problem of “Monga”
is a great barrier for the development of our country. And I choose this topic
because I realize the importance of this problem. My home district is Rangpur
and I see this problem very closely from the early of my childhood. I feel an
urge from the core of my heart to do something for the people of my region. And
when I feel then I decide to choose the topic “Monga” for my assignment.

“Monga” is a known feature to all.
The meaning of monga is ‘scarcity’ “shortage”, “indigence”. “Monga” is a very
known word for the people of northern part of Bangladesh. Under monga condition
food insecurity prevails, not necessarily due to shortfall of production,
rather due to problems of effective distribution as well as lack of employment
of the agriculture labourers. According to Centre for Policy Dialogue, “Monga
is a local term used to indicate acute deprivation caused due to the erosion of
purchasing power from lack of gainful employment opportunities.” (CPD).

In a workshop at Dalia heading “Shop
Politics on Monga, high time to fight it,” Abdul Majid, Chief Scientific
Officer  of Bangladesh Rice Research
Institute (BRRI) in Rangpur region presented a key note paper at the workshop.
He said, during Bangla months of Aswin & Kartik (mid September to mid
November) people of eight districts of Rangpur, Gaibandha, Kurigram,
Lalmonirhat, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh and Nilphamari face acute
hardship due to unemployment. They are only 10 percent of the countries
population living in 11 percent area.

The causes are:

Poor economic condition
Repeated floods
River erosion
Absence of food grains surplus at
family level.
Increase in the number of landless
Lack of employment in non-agriculture
sectors excluding agriculture.

Speaking as chief guest, State Minister for Agriculture Mirza
Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said “we must create alternative employment
opportunities, alongside developing and diversifying agriculture in the monga
effected areas. “He said the government wants to promote agro-based small and
medium industries in the region but investors are not coming forth. They think
that investment in this region would not be profitable.

(Stop politics on Monga, High time to fight it, Daily Star,
17th April, 2005.)

Bangladesh Economics Association
prepared a paper for xv Bennial Conference and in this paper they said that in
the northern district the labor supply is higher than in comparison with other
districts. And here the labor cost is too small. Due to lack of industry, industrial
mobility is too less. (Jarip- 2003, Bangladesh Economics Association).

wages of “monga” effected areas are too small. Now we see this discrimination
in the following table:


Wages (TK) Average wages (per day)

Wages Rangpur region

Yearly Average Growth Rangpur


















June 2000






June 2001






June 2002






June 2003






Source: B.B.S. Year book of
Agricultural statistics. 99-2000, Monthly Statistical Bulletin, 2004.

A survey is held by RDRS
and in this survey they find out some causes of monga-
Lack of work in non-agricultural
Low amount of labour cost/wages/low
Landless farmer
Lack of crop diversification
Lack of cash money
Lack of loan facilities
Above all excessive farmers than

The growth of agricultural labour

(Zila wise)




































Source: Census of Agriculture Zila
Series Nilphamari- 2003 and statistical pocket book of Bangladesh- 2001.

This years monga was more acute than
those in the post. It did not remain limited in greater Rangpur only, but
spread across Faridpur, Gopalgonj and Jamalpur district and affected at least
30-40 Lac people. At least 44 people died due to diarrhoea  and hunger, (Daily Star, December 31, 2005)
Incessant heavy rainfall and flood further deteriorated the situation claiming
more lives that suffered from hunger. Forced to eat unhealthy food, people are
frequently becoming affected with diarrhoea at least 10000 people were affected
in Rangpur district along of which at least 30 died (Sangbad, 23, October
2005). Suicide in order to escape starvation has become a normal incident. To
survive, poor people are forced to sell their necessaries.

1 Flood

2 River erosion

3 Excessive rainfall

4 Discriminatory distribution of land
is more evident in this area than any other parts of the country. Around 65% of
the people in this area are landless.

5 Widespread corruption in
distributing food relief and VGF cards.

6 Lack of sources of industries –
based employment

7 Very
little micro-credit programs taken by the NGOs due too low return rates for
poverty in that area. An estimate of BRAC showed that almost 32% of the people
in those areas are ‘ultra poor’ who do not have the capacity to return the
furrowed money, let alone the interests of micro-credit. (What are the ways to
remove Monga? Prothom Alo round table discussion, 11 December, 2005)

Even if the relief workers were
carried out without any irregularities, the allotted amount would simply be too
small to sustain a family that has one card only.

For lack of recognition by the
government, the funds that are allocated for poverty alleviation or disaster
management can not be utilized at the time of crisis.

Anu Muhammad, Professor of Economics
at Jahangirnagar University commented that the monga in northern Bangladesh is
an illustration of sustainable poverty. Government poverty alleviation programs
do not reach the northern region where monga hits tens of millions of people
each year. Moreover, for the lack of capacity of the people to return their
borrowed amount, micro-credit programs are not popular here. As a result, for
survival, people are forced  to go to
local ‘Mahajan’ or money-lenders who usually charge 200-300% in interest. Men
are forced to cheaply sell their labour during the odd season. As a result,
they are more steadfastly entrapped in the vicious cycle. Unlike other areas,
the distribution of land is too much discriminatory in this area making at
least 65% people landless. Thus, there is a need for reforms and long-term plan
to prevent monga. (Daily Sangbad, October 30, 2005)

For lesser attention and care women
and children become the first victims of diseases and deprivations. To, survive
many of them are forced info begging, sex trade or other hazardous works. Since
the area is close to the borders, it becomes easier for traffickers to tempt
young women or children to cross the border. These trafficked girls and
children engaged in various inhuman work like sex trade. Pregnant women are especially
vulnerable. Inadequate food and care endanger both the life of mother and
child. A malnourished mother cannot produce enough milk to feed her baby.

Some recent discussions have revealed
that there could be an indirect link between recent upsurge of Islamic
militancy in the country and ongoing poor social security in the North, as the
perpetrators grabbed are mostly from the northern districts. Deprivation,
hunger, lack of support have so prompted their anger that they are easily being
misled by false religious dictations. (An article, prepared by Dip Mamun,
Freelance writer)


The data for this study have been
collected from both Primary and Secondary sources. For Primary sources in depth
information was collected through a number of case studies. Monga affected,
village- Saodagar Para of Tista, Union- Gogunda under Lalmonirhat district were
selected as primary sources.

Newspaper, media coverage on monga.
Victims, Government & non-government research reports and articles were the
basis of secondary source of information.


A micro survey, such as the present
one, has its limitation, because one can rarely extrapolate results from the
sample to the national or even regional population.

In terms of case study, it focuses on
few units. Some time limited in their representativeness. They don’t allow
valid generalization and particularly vulnerable to subjective bias.

Below are some case studies, which
are presented in order to depict some of the harsh realities of the socio-cultural
and economic impact monga.


Asiya is one of those people in
saudgarpara who spend their day starving. Asiya is married (30 years). She has
a son and two daughters. Her husband has a shabby tea-stall beside the street
which is made of bamboo. With her husbands earning, Asiya’s family runs. Her
husband’s daily income is 35 to 40 taka; 50 at most, but not more than that.
They do not have any assets, not even a domestic animal which might have
provided them with an extra earning. Due to her fate Asiya could just educate
her daughter until the sixth standard and moreover she was found to get her
daughter married. At least, they got free of the expense of one member. Poverty
is their companion for 12 long months. When her husbands earning is
insufficient, she needs to work as a maid servant. In return, she gets half a
kilo of rice, vegetables or potatoes. If they can somehow manage food once, in
a day, it becomes difficult for them to manage it for the second time. Their
poverty goes even worse during the month of Ashin and Kartik. Then they have to
relay on “Kochu” “Ghechu” “Chatu” “Chaler Khud” etc. Most they do not have the
money to buy materials for preparing tea. During flood, their condition becomes
more vulnerable. During that time, they have nothing to do other spending days
on the bed. Neither Asiya nor her husband has no educational qualification.
Moreover, they do not know any technical works. So, during scarcities, they do
not have any job, even they want one. Last year, during the flood, Asiya took
loan from the BRAC. Now she is repaying the loan at installment, Which is Tk.
25 per week. They are now awful and painful conditions. For the salvation
against the winter they have nothing but a quilt and turned sweater for the younger
son. Always, they are suffering from fever, diahorrea, they have to pay for the
medicine, and so. Due to lack of money, most of the time they cannot have
proper treatment. Moreover, due to the present high price of rice and pulse the
condition has turned worse than the worst. For one year, they ate, small fish
first for 4 to 5 day and when estimating the last day they had meat, Asiya goes
in a position for shedding tears. Asiyas family could not have any government
and non-government aid during last years severe monga. They are completely
unaware of the government pioneered scheme such as VGD, VGF, village rationing
card etc. They are even deprived of KABITA (Kajer binimoye taka) that is money
for work and KABIKHA (Kajer binimoye Khaddo) that is food for work programs.


providing his children with a few food twice a day. Mohrob Islam has to keep
busy day and night. He has two cute daughters, the elder one is now at class 3
at the BRAC school. so he is saved from the educational expenses; and the
younger one has not started school yet. For a living Mohrob Islam ploughs
others land and as asset. he has a house only. He does not have much
educational qualification but he can sign his name. His daily income is 50 to
60 taka with which he has to sort of struggle to run his family. There is no
source of extra income. He possesses a cow that should be his last option but
he worries that he might have to give away that during scarcity. During Ashin
and Kartik he becomes completely jobless as no wok is available on lands. Also
during floods he has to pass days without any work. In such poor conditions he
passes his days at that time that, while describing those contemporary periods
he just broke into tears. During scarcity, if , he can manage food for once, he
has to pass rest of the day with empty stomach. Kochu, Gechu, Panta Vaat are
the stuffs in his menu. So not having any option during that time he has to
sell paddy (Auysh and amon) at a very low price, which at normal times is Tk. 400
to 450 per Mon to the Mahajan and head of the village. Most of the times
Mohrob’s wife is ill and so during scarcity he has to work at others’ house as
there is no work in lands; but nowadays his physical conditions is also not so
well. In a month. may be they may not have meat for a single day. Mohrob never
had any loan from BRAC or from any NGOs. Badly stricken by poverty he has to go
house-to-house or the well offs to help. Nearly every year they have to face
“Monga” And his children suffer from diahorrea and dysentery
frequently. Last year during the flood the bamboo of his house was ruined but
he could not get any help from anybody. He is also deprived of facilities like

Begum’s family includes her husbands
and three daughters. Husband sells tea and biscuits and she works as a maid at
other’s house. Neither of them has any educational background. They have “Char
Satak” of land and at that very spot, their house was built, with bamboo and
tin. Her husband earns about Tk. 30/35 daily and at this rate, nearly most of
the time a year, scarcity is always with them “They face monga whole year.
During that time Kochu, Kolmi Shakh, Ghechu etc. are their food menu. They can
not have fish or meat, not even for a single day in a month. May be they get to
eat those once or twice a year. Begum is a member of BRAC. At the past time she
loaned TK. 3000 from there and TK. 4000 next year. But repaying those was
really tough and troublesome for them. However, they repay the loan in return
by heart and soul labour. She knows the work of sewing, still it can not bring
solvency. Most of the money that they get for work at the shop goes away in
repaying the loan. Even they do not have a bit money for even treatment. Last
year during the extreme “Monga” they did not receive any government or
non-government aid and moreover they are completely ignorant about schemes like
VGF, VGD card. They have long prayed for the fact that government would help
them with cash money. However, this is for beyond implementation.


Kochimon is the agonizing reality of
early marriage. Being at a very young age, Kochimon is now the mother of a son
and daughter. Her husband is a rickshaw-puller at the village market, with a
daily income of TK. 25/30, which is not sufficient for a few foods, even twice
a day. During flood the house was badly ruined and they had to rebuilt that
house by landing money from the people of the locality. Their house is on
railways land and sometimes for this season, the staff of railways destroys
their house. And so they have to re-construct the house, again by landing, As a
matter of fact, landing has become a daily procedure for them and as they
cannot repay the money, Kochimon always have to consume the hostile and insult
from their neighborhood. “Poverty” this simple dictionary word has become
agonizing attached with her, which she started her life and may be has to end
it. After a day of long and laborer work at others house, she may be
sympathized with vegetables, Potato or Rice and with this they have to manage
their hunger. She did not take any loan from BRAC and neither they any sort of
aid from government or non-government NGO and as most of the unprivileged,
deprived they does not know any single staff about VGD and VGF card and KABIKHA
or KABITA projects.


Islam is one of those people at Tista who are currently at an awfully battered
and distorted condition and whose distressful sufferings hardly leave anyone
without tears. Md. Islam is suffering from albinism and at the same time he is
a cripple; so he cannot work. His wife left him and now his family consists of
his only daughter and his old mother who happens to be beside him in these
hideous conditions. For this unfortunate cripple, food is only available when
his mother rings some by begging. His mother, who is also a cripple goes house
to beg. May be she is pitied by  Panta
Vaat and vegetable and with wretched item and then the manage their hunger. His
daughter is getting free education from the BRAC School. He lives on the
railways land. Nearly all the times they have to be contents without any food
at least once a day. During then they have to fell asleep due to the agony of
hunger and waking up they have to think ” What shall we eat?”; and
this is how in this half-perished condition these three lives is crawling.

Last year during the Kurbani Eid his
mother brought some beef by begging and they ate that joyous satisfaction.
Except Eid no one gives beef and obviously they cannot afford to buy meat for
themselves. For winter they have nothing more than a blanket and with the few
thrashed clothing they have, they use those against monstrous cold. They do not
know anything about VGF, VGD card. Moreover during the “monga” they
receive no aid from any government or non-government schemes. Whether dead or
alive nobody does not even pay the slightest attention. ” As long as we
are alive poverty will plague us and when we are dead it is all over” – in
such inhuman\painful condition are Islam and his family living. 

The ministry of food, relief and
disaster management created a fund of TK. 500 crore in order to find a
permanent solution to monga. The fund was supposed to be used in allocating
“Khas land” among the landless and for providing financial support for self
employment generation. Under this initiative, Tk. 20 crore has been spend upto
data (Prothom Alo, 26 October, 2005) Government also undertook vulnerable group
feeding (VGF), test relief, money for work programme, selling of rice at lower
price (OMS), and stipends for girls.

However despite those good
initiatives, the situation at one stages had become so uncontrollable due to
improper distribution, corruption and nepotism.

Besides, the initiatives taken were
of title use to most of the people affected, as most of them did not get VGF,
VGD and village rationing cards.


Monga must be recognized as a
national issue. As long the government denies its existence, we cannot expect
it to come up with specific programmes to mitigate the crisis. Those involved
in governments policy-making need to realize that emergency relief is more

should be taken to develop non farm employment during the agriculture lean
season- as short term and long term measures along with plant and policies to
encourage the private to invest and setup industrial units in the areas

needs to take initiatives to spread micro-credit programs along with capacity
building of the poor to return the loan money. National and local NGOs should
be encouraged to join the process keeping in mind that the center of their
attention should be development, not profit making.

farming in the affected areas can be an effective deterrent to fight monga.
Excessive dependence on rice cultivation should be reduced; banana, Potato,
Bhutta and other vegetables that grow better during the lean season should be
promoted. Animal rearing, livestock and poultry also are effective means to
reduce poverty. Besides, if these items can be brought to Dhaka at a reduced
cost, it can benefit both the growers and consumers. For that, the rate of
Jamuna Bridge toll should be reduced. Farmers say it will lessen the cost of
the products up to 2/3 taka per kilo.

is an urgent need to increase the number of VGD and VGF cards and test relief
program, KABITA (money for work), Rural maintenance program (RMP) and KABIKHA
(Food for work) etc. as well as measures to distribute those properly among the
poor and vulnerable groups. Many argue that there is enough storage of food in
the country, but the main problem is to make them available to the people who
really need it.

long term solution to the problem, there should be a plan to build up small and
large-scale industries in the North. Industries of longer scales can provide
employment for greater number of people. Government should support the private
sector to invest in such programs.

planned programs to develop the capacity of women in weaving, stitching or
handicrafts can bring in good results. There is huge demand for silk at both
national and international level, which can be produced in this region in


Nobel Prize
winner Amartya Sen has rightly pointed out that a famine is not caused by
shortage of food but because of the fact that people do not have the capacity
to buy food. True this is, as the government has repeatedly kept assuring of
adequate storage of food, but in newspaper we find quite the opposite. The real
problem lies in the improper distribution of foods and lack of capacity of the
people to purchase. Corruption, nepotism, lack of co-ordination, tenacity of
the government policies and officials, negative attitude towards the media,
political revelries are the main reasons that aggravated the situation.
Starvation deaths and ongoing malnutrition as reported from the ‘monga’
affected areas of the country appear to be the consequence of bad governance
resulting from acts of omission and commission on the part of public servants
and also decisions for release and disbursement of existing funds and relief
for the purpose of addressing the “Monga” situation. The recent thrust of monga
has given us an opportunity to analyze the situation and identify the causes of
it, which might help take precautionary steps to prevent this from happening
next year. We are now frequently having meetings, round tables, debates that
might teach us some lessons not to repeat the same mistakes again and again.
Therefore, its time to rectify our past mistake and take steps to get ourselves
rid of this national shame- Monga.

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of the state of Bangladesh, presented at a National Seminar, November 2005,
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The State of Bangladesh Economy, The Daily Star 12, January 2004.

the monthly magazine of New Age, December 2005.

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Dhaka, October 23, 2005.

are the ways to remove Monga? Prothom Alo Round Tables discussion, December 11,

Sangbad, October 30, 2005.

Alo, October 26, 2005.

October 26, 2005.

Star, April 17, 2005.

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July 02, 2005.

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article, prepared by- Dip Mamun, Freelance Writer.