Saturday, January 28, 2006

Joint survey sees huge economic potential in CHT

By ATAUL GANI SUMON

Projecting high economic potentiality of the country’s three hill districts, a joint UN-GoB mission foresees enormous economic benefits not only for the people of the region, but for the entire country, if these potentials can be fully tapped.

The joint UN-GoB (government of Bangladesh) Component Formulation Mission on ‘Promoting Economic Opportunities in CHT’, in its final report submitted recently, made the assessment after completing a two-month survey in three hill districts- Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari.

Coordinated by UNDP, the joint team comprising seven other UN, International and Bangladesh government agencies, also put forward a 14-point recommendation aimed at successfully tapping the opportunities mainly focusing four major areas- youth employment in CHT, marketing and rural Infrastructure, private sector investment and community based tourism.

The mission led by ILO (International Labour Organisation), which also include different line agencies of Bangladesh government and CHT institutions, conducted the survey between November and December last year.

After reviewing the findings further, the UNDP, in collaboration and partnership with the GoB, CHT stockholders and Private Sector, will go for implementation of the recommendations in the first half of this year, Michel Heyn, Director, UNDP, CHT-DF told The Independent.

"It’s obvious that the CHT holds huge economic potentials... now the mission report again also reveal it... now this is time to go for action to change the fate of people of the region and as well as the country," he added.

World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Union (EU), Japanese Embassy, JICA and Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), NoRAD, UNDP

FAO, ILO, WFP and Canadian International Agency are working with the mission as donor agencies.

The organisations which participated in the mission are: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), World Tourism Organization (WTO)

and Kathmundu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Identifying poverty as one of main obstacles in the development of the area, the mission observed that poverty is rampant in the CHT, much higher than national average.

"CHT also suffers from an unfair image, that of a backward, unsafe, problem-ridden region while the communication infrastructure – road, river route, telecommunication, in general, is inadequate and underdeveloped and underutilized – particularly given the nature of the region’s terrain," the mission report added.

Focusing four major areas to tap the economic opportunities fully, the mission opined: In terms of crime rate, CHT is the safest place all over Bangladesh,"

"The ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of CHT is not a sign of backwardness, rather this enriches the overall profile and heritage of the entire country," it added.

Identifying the CHT as ‘largest producer of various fruits (banana, pineapples, papaya etc) and cash crops (ginger, turmeric, tobacco etc.) the report also said: Similarly many other cash crops could be grown, cultivated. In fact, they are already grown on a limited scale – such as, oranges, saffron, patchouli, spices etc."

Terming tourism and its related industries in the area ‘little explored but with exceptional economic potentials," the report said: The region, with its rich ethnic and cultural diversity, can attract large number of tourists both from home and abroad.

"The proximity of the region with the main port of the country – Chittagong – locates it to a naturally advantageous position for various industrial activities and investment,"

It also suggested initiation of job-oriented training programmes for the youth (in particular) for building a skilled human resource base and setting up small-scale industrial units or investment.

"Such investments are likely to be more successful and will not hamper the region’s fragile socio-cultural and economic balance," it said, adding: A culturally sensitive community tourism should be promoted as traditional arts and crafts of the region’s ethnic indigenous communities have huge economic potentials."

Creation of necessary linkages with market for the producers and farmers is an absolute requirement so that the farmers and producers get a fair price of their products. The trade bodies of the region (three Chambers of Commerce and Industries) should be strengthened and their capacities increased, it opined.

In addition, establishment a regional body, such as Regional Chambers of Commerce could be explored and a CHT/Regional Private Sector Investment Promotion Centre could be established, the report recommended.

The mission also stressed the government needs to facilitate the process by enacting necessary laws and providing policy incentives, such tax holidays etc while the region’s infrastructure needs improvement, particularly in the areas of road and telecommunication.

The UNDP, of late, signed its largest-ever US $ 50 million development project for the next five-years in CHT.

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