A large proportion of urban residents, primarily those who used to live in the capital Dhaka, are returning to their rural origins.
There might be three main reasons behind this. First, house rent is very high in Dhaka. Staying in rural areas, they would be able to cut down this expenditure as many of them have their ancestral home in their village. Secondly, prices of many essential food items are also lower in rural areas, while many people have their own sources of staple foods. And thirdly, individuals may seek social security in rural areas in certain cases, which they cannot get in urban areas.
Nonetheless, this reverse migration can also bring in a positive outcome if it is supported by some policy measures.
We have to provide productive employment opportunities in rural areas. Besides, education, healthcare and other civic as well as utility services should be made available there.
A number of policies, some of which may be long-term, need to be considered by the government in this connection.
The government needs to allocate more funds (there is already a Tk100 crore allocation) for self employment activities under its social safety net programme. This will help to generate small-scale alternative employment opportunities in rural areas.
It is extremely important to relax the terms and conditions of the Tk20,000 crore incentive package announced for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) so that existing entrepreneurs can re-built their businesses and create employment opportunities in both urban and rural areas and, at the same time, new entrepreneurs can engage in self-employment activities.
At the moment the conditions and relevant banking options are quite complex, which discourage small and micro enterprises to avail the incentive package.
In addition to internal (reverse) migrants, it is important to create employment opportunities for foreign-returnee migrant workers.
In the medium to long run, it is crucial to create employment pools centered on different districts. This strategy also requires long-term planning to decentralise key administrative units.
In addition to employment opportunities, it is also important to ensure better schooling and healthcare facilities, at least in peri-urban areas and at the upazila level.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka