Bangladesh: Report from the special DER meeting on 'Monga' 2004

from Local Consultative Group - Bangladesh
Published on 10 Nov 2004
1. Definition of 'Monga'

Monga is seasonal scarcity of employment and hence household incomes leading to lack of access to food amongst mainly rural poor landless families. It occurs almost every year mostly in the northwestern districts, west of the Brahmaputra, particularly after the planting but before the aman harvest in the months of September, October, and November. The phenomenon of lack of options for income generation at this time of year in North Bengal was noted as long ago as the colonial period but has only been reported prominently in the media in recent years.

'Monga' is not itself the cause of the problems, but the word used to describe the impact at household level of a combination of factors such as the reduction in day-labour opportunities after the rice crop is sown and before the harvest, seasonal higher prices of basic food commodities, and the after-effects of monsoon flooding.

Although a structural issue to be addressed by government and development partners through appropriate mechanisms, the DER Sub-Group is concerned with the issue because of its impact upon vulnerable populations whose coping capacity has already been stressed by the floods. The DER Sub-Group's role is to improve the humanitarian response to the needs through better information and coordination.

2. Description of the effect of 'Monga' on households

Indicators for the presence of 'monga' are the typical responses of households to it, which are likely to be amongst the following:

a) Reduction in the size and number of meals prepared and consumed each day;

b) Recourse to the consumption of uncultivated foods from wild sources;

c) Very low wage rates for day-labour (it is now as low as Tk. 30 /day in the NW);

d) Advance sale of labour (at a discount on the prevailing market rate);

e) Sale of fixed and moveable household assets, such as some land, livestock, jewellery, furniture, even pots and pans;

f) Migration (especially of men) to other, less affected rural areas, or to major cities;

g) Taking advantage of repayment holidays on existing loans; and

h) Contracting news loans, from micro-credit providers if possible, otherwise from village moneylenders at extremely high interest rates.

All these indicators could be verified only through field visits and discussions with the affected people themselves.

3. Likely duration and future evolution of problems caused by 'Monga' this year

The immediate impact of the 'monga' is on unemployment rates, then on household incomes, then on their food security, and finally on their nutrition levels. Malnutrition will first evidence itself in a rise in malnutrition-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, and finally in increased deathrates. Women and women-headed households will suffer worse because they already tend to be more malnourished, partly for existing socio-cultural reasons, and because when there is an oversupply of day-labour, employers will tend to hire men before women.

There is no doubt that the series of major flood episodes from July to October this year have exacerbated the impact of the 'monga'. Normally the 'monga' is over by late November and in areas where the aman crop is ready for harvest and likely to provide a decent yield, the employment and thus household food security situation will gradually improve from now. Harvesting has already started in some parts of Nilphamari and Rangpur Districts.

However, because of the floods, the overall size of this crop and hence the amount of day-labour required is expected to be significantly reduced. In some areas the 'monga' situation may persist beyond November until the coldest time of the year, and it may only end with the increase in employment at the time of planting the boro rice crop, in January.

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