Dr. Atle Pearson
(Dr. Atle Pearson is a Norwegian academic and analyst with experience in South Asian affairs research, diplomacy, and geopolitics.)
Bangladesh’s Ashrayan Project (Shelter Project for the Homeless) is empowering marginalised people through inclusive development, as this housing project plays a vital role in alleviating poverty and helping the country attain at least eight targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Ashrayan Project is now being used aptly as the Sheikh Hasina Model for Inclusive Development, which has ushered in a new era of growth towards building a Bangladesh free from poverty and hunger.
Through the project, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina introduced a new dimension of growth and socio-economic development for the homeless populace based on the philosophy that no one will be left behind’.
However, 22 thousand more families are going to get new houses as a gift from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for landless and homeless people. These houses are being provided in the second phase of the fourth phase of the Prime Minister’s Office Asharyan-II project.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hand over these semi-furnished houses along with two hundred acres of land to the families for free on Wednesday. At the same time, the Prime Minister will declare 123 upazilas of the country as completely landless and homeless-free. Out of this, all the upazilas in 12 districts have this achievement.
In May 2020, the Asharyan-2 project under the Prime Minister’s Office was taken up to implement the declaration of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ‘Not a single person in Bangladesh will be homeless or landless in the Mujib year.’ In January 2021, the Prime Minister handed over 63,999 single-family houses in the first phase of this project. At the same time, 3,715 families were rehabilitated in 743 barracks. In June of the same year, the Prime Minister handed over 53,330 houses in the second phase. The number of houses constructed in the third phase was 65,674. 39,365 houses in the fourth phase were handed over in March this year. The remaining houses in this phase will be handed over.
Under this project, 238851 families have been given houses with land in four stages. A total of 119,4035 displaced people have been resettled, with an average of five members per family. It is the largest government rehabilitation programme in the world in terms of the number of beneficiaries and rehabilitation methods.
Asharyan today is a unique project not only in Bangladesh but also in the world. In different countries of the world, there are various initiatives to help the backward people in different ways, but there is no precedent in the world to build these types of houses permanently by giving ownership of government land in their name to the people who have no address and building houses with electricity and sanitation facilities at government expense. In this project, homeless and landless families are provided ownership of two-room semi-paved single-family houses with electricity facilities in the joint name of husband and wife with a 2 percent Khas (government-owned land) land settlement. Notably, the project is not only an opportunity for a man and his family to live with dignity but also a unique example of women’s empowerment by ensuring ownership of land for husbands as well as wives. Researchers can find such a unique example that no other will match it.
How big and comprehensive this campaign is can be understood from some statistics. Studies have confirmed that 5,55,617 families have been given shelter in the shelter project started in 1997, where 27,78,085 people have been displaced. Apart from shelters, almost similar projects are Veer Nibas, Minority Resettlement, Cluster Villages, Disaster Resilient Houses, and Housing Fund Houses. Together with all these projects, 4,14,800 people have become house owners and landowners. More than 28,000 acres of land have been allotted for homesteading alone. The visible result is that 334 upazilas, including all upazilas in 21 districts of the country, are landless and homeless today.
Realising the sufferings of the homeless, marginalised, and ultra-poor people, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after coming to power with The Ashrayan project, a home for the homeless, is seen as a “Sheikh Hasina Model” for inclusive development. So far, around 1 million families have received such homes across the country, giving shelter to more than 3.5 million people. 1996, envisioned the Ashrayan project for the rehabilitation of millions.
Without increasing the statistics, the country’s 334 landless and homeless free upazila shelters, if we look at similar projects, will lead us to a new one. In the meantime, we will see a different kind of trend and aesthetic impression of sustainable engineering thinking according to the landscape. In this house construction style of the Asharyan project, we see, in general, a two-room semi-furnished single house with toilet, kitchen, and a balcony for each family; specially designed houses for riverside areas; specially designed houses for small ethnic groups in hilly areas; and specially designed houses for small ethnic groups in other areas. Design tong houses, multi-story buildings for climate refugees, paved barracks for coastal people, semi-paved barracks for plain areas, barracks for charanchelors (island areas), and single houses for beggars. This variety of house construction proves that this initiative is not just a cheap one; it has been implemented with very careful thought so that the beneficiary community actually gets the maximum practical benefit in their respective areas.
A house or a family on a piece of land is not only a housing facility, but shelter has also ushered in massive changes in the socio-economics of the country. Shelters and similar initiatives have empowered the backward communities as well as established them at unique heights of social status by empowering destitute women in land ownership, helping them to return to the mainstream. By eradicating hunger and poverty, providing permanent housing, education, health, and sanitation, ensuring social equity, and rehabilitating climate refugees, this initiative has brought massive and visible change to the rural economy.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s own and original philosophy for moving the country forward is not limited to theory or words. The practical aspect of this philosophy is also clearly visible. Shelters and similar projects are a visible form of the ‘Sheikh Hasina Model of Inclusive Development’. The features of this model are: Increasing the earning power of the poorest people; establishing their respectable livelihood and social status; empowering women in land and house ownership; building self-confidence and self-esteem among them; skills and development; environmental protection; and ensuring village-to-city facilities.
Analysing the indicators of change in this model, it has been found that the beneficiaries of the shelter project have increased their sense of security by 98.87 percent, their social status has increased by 98.5 percent, the standard of living has increased by 95.2 percent, the ability to buy new furniture has increased by 70.22 percent, positive behaviour has improved by 60.78 percent, social harmony has increased by 60.21 percent, the ability to buy electronic devices has increased by 56.78 percent, the savings rate has increased by 44 percent, and cultural activities have increased by 35.5 percent. According to the information available until July 22, 1922, there were 350,000 metric tonnes of agricultural produce, 720 metric tonnes of fish, 130,000 cattle, and 1000,000 poultry pigeons (According to media reports in 2022). Without further ado, this is visible development; this is inclusive development. It must be mentioned that the asylum project, like several other initiatives of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has caught the attention of the world’s policymakers as the largest rehabilitation project in the world. The project is being discussed in the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, known as UN Habitat. In the 77th session of the United Nations, held on September 21, 2022, policymakers from various countries, including the United Nations, participated in the discussion titled ‘Refuge: Sheikh Hasina Model for Inclusive Development’.
However, today, people around the world can come and see that the poor, dishonourable, and neglected women of Bangladesh have also become land owners and have built their very own ‘houses’ with their husbands and families. This project has given them respect, dignity, strength, and confidence.