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BD’s success in development process

Published : Sunday, 3 March, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 226

In the era (2000-2015) of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Bangladesh had achieved outstanding success in both poverty eradication and human development. Bangladesh's success in both economic and social fronts bewildered many astute observers, including Professor Wahiduddin Mahmud, who called it a "development surprise". Others called it the "Bangladesh paradox" or "Bangladesh puzzle".

Bangladesh's achievements surprised many observers because the country faced many daunting challenges. The challenges include political instability and uncertainty, growing violence, climate change, frequent natural disasters, poor resource base, income inequality, crumbling institutions, increased centralisation, poor service delivery, endemic corruption, dysfunctional governance and so on. Defying such odds, Bangladesh continued to make progress in improving the lives and livelihood of its people.

In 1971, there were 75 million people in the country. Its rice production was only 10 million metric tonnes. Presently, our population is more than 160 million and to accommodate this extra-large population, we have lost a significant amount of cultivable land. Meanwhile, rice production has tripled in the last 47 years to over 33 million metric tonnes, making Bangladesh the fourth-biggest rice producer in the world. The production of jute, pulses, wheat, tea, maize, sugarcane, potato, chili, onion and all other crops has also steadily improved.

Once agriculture, livestock, aquaculture and fisheries were thought to represent a backwater sector but today the situation is changing. Bangladeshi youth are looking at these sectors as an opportunity for them to be self-employed. More and more educated youth are now participating in this business. And as a result, Bangladesh is now the third biggest inland fish producer in the world. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the country had produced 4.134 million metric tonnes of fish. In 2018, it earned Tk 4,500 crore by exporting around 69,000 metric tonnes of fish and fish products. The fisheries sector is currently contributing 3.8 percent of the GDP. Also, a noticeable development has taken place in commercial poultry production that has generated considerable employment through the production and marketing of poultry and poultry products.

After the independence of Bangladesh, there were many new developments in industrial spheres. A considerable progress was made by the garments, textiles, leather and leather goods, pharmaceuticals, ceramic, cement and many other sectors. The success story of the ready-made garment (RMG) industry is well known. The sector has emerged as a silent revolution. Today it is creating employment opportunities for 4 million people, of whom 80 percent are women. In the fiscal year 2017-18, the country made approximately USD 30.61 billion's worth of garments export, which established us as the second-largest garments and knitwear exporting country in the world. The tag "Made in Bangladesh" has also brought glory and honour for us.

Undoubtedly, RMG and agriculture have taken the economy to a new trajectory, but it would not be an overstatement to say that the backbone of the economy is remittance. Remittances earned from overseas Bangladeshi migrants have played an important role in lifting the people out of poverty. The inflow of remittance was USD 23.7 million in 1975 and it rose to USD 15 billion in 2018. The revenues earned and sent by the migrant workers make the largest portion of our national reserve of foreign exchange which now stands close to USD 33 billion.

Bangladesh, without a doubt, is one of the most promising economies in the region. When the war-ravaged country gained independence in 1971, the size of its GDP was only USD 6.2 billion and in 2018, the GDP grew to USD 286.27 billion (nominal), taking the country to the 42nd position in the world economy. Today our per capita income is USD 1751, which was only USD 135.62 in 1970. Besides our economic growth, we have also made significant social progress. The average life expectancy at birth has risen to 72 years in 2017 from 39.93 in 1971, child mortality rate fell gradually from 224.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 32.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017, and literacy rate has more than doubled since 1970. Over the years, we have also progressed a lot in terms of empowering our women.
The above are a few snapshots of our many successes, and these are all impressive achievements. But that doesn't mean that we don't have challenges. Of course, we have challenges that are threatening to undo some of our hard-earned successes but that's for another day.

So, what's the story behind Bangladesh's "development surprise? If one looks carefully at the above portrayal, one can easily see that there is no surprise; it's the resilience of the people of Bangladesh, their struggle for survival and their entrepreneurial ability which have contributed in taking the country out of the "basket case". Of course, government and non-government organisations (NGOs) also deserve credit. There is no denying that for the past three decades, government socio-economic reforms and policies have allowed the private sector to play an increasingly active role in the economic life of the country, but the real architect of this "development surprise" is indeed the people of this land.

Achieving SDGs would also require the localisation of goals. Localisation is a process to empower all local stakeholders, aimed at making sustainable development more responsive, and therefore, relevant to local needs and aspirations. Development goals can be reached only if local actors fully participate, not only in the implementation, but also in setting and monitoring the agenda. Localising thus would require more than the implementation of SDGs at the local level by sub-national actors; it would also involve a participative and consultative process for developing the necessary strategy for their achievement ( That is why SDG 16 emphasised on creating strong institutions and ensuring inclusive decision-making. Fortunately, some NGOs are already pursuing rights-based activities at the grassroots level and strengthening local government bodies, particularly Union Parishads, as a means of localising SDGs.

For Bangladesh to repeat its development surprise in the SDG era many changes and reforms must take place in the coming days, including the removal of governance dysfunction.

The writer is a journalist

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