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When BDPC launched the RRDPRG project, less than 20% of the intervention areas’ inhabitants knew the responsibilities of the Union Parishad. The Union Parishad is the chief administrator of government services at the local level, including disaster relief, health services, infrastructure and social services. They are responsible for repairing roads, distributing material and monetary relief to disadvantaged families and providing government-issued immunizations free of cost, all crucial services for keeping poverty at bay and coping with disaster. Without knowing who was responsible for such services, ill informed communities didn’t even know if they were missing out.

Since 2008, the RRDPRG project has been addressing this issue. BDPC has conducted over 1000 workshops with approximately 6000 beneficiaries. Topics have included social accountability, disaster risk reduction and good governance, local service providing agencies and the Right to Information Act. As a result, vulnerable individuals are now familiar with the responsibilities of local government agencies and understand their rights to services and information. Furthermore, they are now equipped with the necessary skills to claim those rights. If they are not receiving their service entitlements, they now know who to go to and how to negotiate.

In addition to individual action, communities are developing the capacity for collective action. Ward Disaster Preparedness Committees have been formed and are now leading disaster management at the community level. Working collaboratively has enhanced collective organizational skills and built social capital, providing communities with the strength, confidence and ability to stand up for their rights together.

Md. Rafiqul Islam, of Lemshikhali Union in Kutubdia, has been one of the beneficiaries of BDPC’s workshops. After learning about the Right to Information Act, Mr. Islam approached the Project Implementation Officer of the Vulnerable Groups Feeding Program (VGF), run by the Union Parishad. He had heard that the government would be distributing rice among the inhabitants of Lemshikhali through the VGF. He telephoned the PIO and asked how much rice was allocated and for how many people. The PIO denied him the information. The next day, he went to the PIO’s office. Armed with his knowledge of the Right to Information Act, he told the PIO that it was his duty to disclose the information and the people’s right to know. The PIO informed him that 10kg per head of rice was allocated for a total of 2725 inhabitants.

Mr. Islam shared this information around his community and, on the day of distribution, the eligible beneficiaries lined up to receive their 10kg of rice. However, the Chairman announced that each beneficiary would receive just 7kg of rice. This is a common scenario in rural Bangladesh, where communities are ill-informed and lack negotiation skills. But this time, the people knew their entitlements. In addition, many of them had attended workshops in which they’d learned about social accountability or had been involved in WDPCs, where they’d learned to organize themselves collectively. The beneficiaries staged a mass protest and, finally, the chairman distributed 9.5kg of rice to each and every recipient. Although a small amount was still withheld for administrative costs, this represents a substantial improvement on the 7kg originally promised.

This is just one of many stories in which the people of Kutubdia, Chauhali and Faridpur Sadar have used their new skills and knowledge to fight corruption and claim their due services. With each of these instances, the communities are becoming stronger. As knowledge translates to empowerment, individuals and communities are recognizing that basic services are a right, not a privilege. With newfound confidence, they are claiming those services, enabling survival and development, despite the ongoing challenge of disaster.

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