About 2 lakh extreme poor mothers and pregnant women are going to be deprived of the World Bank's cash benefit program due to an unexpected delay in identifying the proper beneficiaries by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
The World Bank has decided to withdraw about $50 million from its $300 million commitment to implement Income Support Programme for the Poorest (ISPP), a program for helping pregnant women and lactating mothers, due to the delay.
The decision will also reduce the number of beneficiaries from 6 lakh to 4 lakh.
The LGRD Ministry, the implementing agency of the programme, was dependent on the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics to obtain information about the target people.
But the BBS used data from the National Household Database (NHD) of 2013 and identified only 4,744 poor women in 4 unions in the first two years.
To accelerate the programme the BBS decided to use alternative data and the number of beneficiaries reached 1.63 lakh over 100 unions in June this year.
"The BBS has data about poverty at upazila level, but not at the union level. The institute used the NHD to obtain data from union level which is yet to be finished," said Aminul Islam, who was the director of the project for the first 2 years.
"Project NHD had the intention to build up a poverty database over the country. But the project was designed with low cost and had limited time," said Dr Krishna Gayen, director-general of BBS.
"We have collected data from alternative sources. After data collection from the field, compilation and other processing work are going on. All the beneficiaries of the program will be identified from next year," she added.
This delay prompted World Bank to submit a proposal to the Economic Relations Division (ERD) of the Ministry of Finance of Bangladesh on August 21, asking to restructure the program with the changes.
The agency also prepared a concept paper in the response of a request from the government extending the program with a two years extension.
The program, also called Jwatno project, was approved in 2015 by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec).
It was designed to provide free medical test and financial support for pregnant women and lactating mothers from the poorest 20 percent of the people in 444 unions of 43 upazilas in 7 districts until 2020.
The selected districts are Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Sherpur, Jamalpur and Mymensingh.
The program aimed to test the growth of children in the project areas aged below 2 years every month and aged below 5 years in every three months.
The project also decided to give Tk1000 to the mother every-time for purchasing nutritious food and medicine.
So far, the implementing agency has received only $33.06 million from the World Bank, which is only 11 percent of the total $300 million.
The World Bank expressed its concern that half of the amount of the project will remain undisbursed at the original closing time in June 2020.
After government request, the project was extended till June 2022.
The financial commitment was also reduced to $250 and the number of beneficiaries lowered to 4 lakh.
But the project officials said that it would be possible to reach 6 lakh beneficiaries as originally proposed in the extended time if the total budget had not been cut.
"Within the first two years of the project, the disbursement rate of aid was very low as few beneficiaries were selected. Additional two years would be sufficient to reach the service to 6 lakh women, but the proposed cut off will hamper to reach the target," said Sheikh Md. Kabedul Islam, project director of the program.