Bangladesh has been able to shake off the stigma of being a low income country. It has crossed the threshold of middle income group of countries, an event worthy of celebration and jubilation by all citizens. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asserted that Bangladesh will become an upper middle-income country well before the envisioned 2021. The World Bank has recognised that the country has already stepped one rung higher into the stair through which it will climb up to the rung of upper middle income countries. Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth reached 7.24 per cent this fiscal year, beating all previous records. The per capita income rises to $1,602, which was $1,466 in the last fiscal year, according to BBS.
The economic growth reached this record high, riding on buoyant exports and robust agricultural outputs. For fiscal year 2015-16, the GDP growth was 7.24 per cent, while the target for this fiscal year was 7.2 per cent. Bangladesh has to maintain the pace for at least three years before WB finally confers upper middle income status and UN upgrades it from least developed country to developing country. To fulfil the criteria for entry into the upper middle income group, Bangladesh is to have a minimum per capita GNI of $4,126. To reach this target in 2021 seems to be an uphill task.
Per capita income (PCI) is not, however, a perfect yardstick for measuring a country’s welfare-oriented development. There are several other considerations that are taken as indicators. PCI does not include social and human development, which is shaped by market mechanism, and negative impacts faced by a society in its pursuit for higher income, distribution of income and benefits of economic growth as important factors.
PCI, nevertheless, remains a widely accepted development indicator. It is a reasonably good, though imperfect, measure of economic status and, provides for quantitative assessment, and is correlated with social and human development aspects.
Side by side with these developments at home, more welcome developments have taken place in the international arena. Coinciding with the end of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) the world leaders have adopted yet another set of global goals, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), for the period 2015 to 2030 titled ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ when they met in New York in the Annual UN General Assembly meeting. Tabled on 25 September 2015 after two years of relentless brainstorming by an international working group and negotiations it was universally adopted on 27 September. The global agenda is a “comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centred set of 17 universal and transformative goals and 169 targets in quest of universal peace, humanity free from poverty and a progressive planet. The agenda’s bold and ambitious aims are intended to make the world more resilient and sustainable, and therefore more liveable for its entire inhabitants for ultimate benefit of the homo sapiens, who rule the roost. The 15-year agenda came into effect on 1 January 2016, as a follow-up programme after MDGs wind up in December 2015. The action has been endorsed by all nations and applauded by all conscious citizens of the world who look forward to a better future.
The goals and targets are comprehensive, all-embracing and well conceived against the current tide of the time, as can be seen here: (1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere; (2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; (3) Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; (4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; (5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; (6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; (7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; (8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and full and productive employment and decent work for all; (9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation; (10) Reduce inequality within and among countries; (11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; (12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; (13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact; (14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; (15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; (16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels and (17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. National governments are responsible for execution of these goals with international support.
Millennium Development Goals consisted of eight global development objectives that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000 and adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. All 189 (presently 193) UN member states and 23 International organisations committed to help achieve eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These were: (1) to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (7;) ensure environmental sustainability and (8) develop a global partnership for development. Each of the goals has specific targets and dates for achieving those targets. To accelerate progress, the G8 finance ministers agreed in June 2005 to provide enough funds to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Fund (AfDB), to cancel $40 to $55 billion in debt owed by members of the heavily indented poor countries (HIPC), to allow them to redirect resources to programmes for improving health and education and for alleviating poverty. The world community, particularly the poor, hailed the new UN perspective plan.
Bangladesh is one of the few countries that achieved most of the goals ahead of time. But there are still areas that need greater attention such as further reduction of hunger and poverty, adaptation to climate change, employment generation for the upcoming generations and ensuring education for all. This was revealed at the ‘Millennium Development Goals: Bangladesh Progress Report-2015’ published at a function organised by the Planning Commission recently. The report showed that the MDG targets that Bangladesh has achieved include reducing headcount poverty and poverty gap ratio, reducing the prevalence of underweight children, attaining gender parity at primary and secondary education, under-five mortality rate reduction, containing HIV infection with access to antiretroviral drugs, under-five children sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, detection and TB cure rate.
Bangladesh has made a remarkable progress in increasing enrolment at primary schools, lowering infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunisation coverage and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases. The MDG progress report 2015 also said the areas in need of greater attention are increase in primary school completion and adult literacy rates, creation of decent wage structure, increase in employment opportunity for women, increase in the presence of skilled health professionals at delivery, increase in forest coverage and wider use of ICT.
Sustainability is a recent concept, compared to other ideas in development discourse. We hear, read and speak about it almost every day, often without realising the implications. A man in the street may wonder what it is exactly. Is it about people and politics, nature and environment, or earning enough money through gainful employment? Well, the answer is simple and straightforward. Sustainability is simply aimed at conservation and further durable development of the resources. Bangladesh has the ability to survive and flourish in a continuous process of growth, and to maintain the achievements through conscious efforts and organised activities. It has the ability to sustain the progress it has already achieved and go further.
The writer, a former civil servant, is Executive Director, Centre for Governance Studies.