Visiting international economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram on Saturday said Bangladesh needs to address its malnutrition problem in addition to strengthening the focus on renewable energy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“I would strongly suggest that countries like Bangladesh pay attention to two issues. One of them is food. Don’t leave the problem of malnutrition entirely to the ministry of health, rather recognise that the nutrition is a multi-dimensional issue,” said Prof Sundaram, a renowned expert on the political economy of development.He was delivering the CPD Anniversary Lecture 2018 at Lakeshore hotel at Gulshan in the city.
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a civil society think tank, organised the lecture titled “Assessing the Challenge of SDG Implementation: Food, Energy and Inequality”.
CPD chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan chaired the event moderated by CPD distinguished fellow Prof Mustafizur Rahman. CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun delivered the introductory speech.
Prof Sundaram, also a former Assistant Secretary General of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the second issue is renewable energy, which is critical to ensuring modern electricity in the wake of global warming.
“Bangladesh is one of the countries that are very sensitive to the problem,” he noted.
Prof Sundaram said production and distribution of food are very important, adding that there are many serious issues which are not often recognised.He said malnutrition is still widespread and some 800 million people remain hungry worldwide which is some 10 per cent of the world population.
Prof Sundaram said the total costs of malnutrition may be as high as 5 per cent of the global GDP, equivalent to $ 3.5 trillion.
He said there are three dimensions of malnutrition — macronutrient (hunger), micronutrient (minerals and vitamins) deficiencies or hidden hunger and obesity (non-communication disease).
He observed that Bangladesh has been focusing on poverty alleviation, but it doesn’t recognise the challenge of malnutrition.
“I think it’s very important to recognise that women and children suffer most from malnutrition,” said Prof Sundaram, also a visiting fellow at Initiative for Policy Dialogue at the Columbia University in the US.
Talking about the energy sector, he said almost all the countries have regressed from diesel to coal-fired plants. He also said Bangladesh is following a controversial path in the energy sector – the government is investing in coal-based power plants and targeting to reduce carbon emission at the same time to achieve SDGs.
“The private the sector can promote renewable energy to help ensure energy for the entire population of Bangladesh or the world,” said Prof Sundaram, currently a distinguished member of ‘Council of Eminent Persons, Malaysia. Noting that the costs of solar panels and wind turbines came down tremendously, the renowned economist questioned why Bangladesh is not producing solar panels for domestic needs and exports.
“Malaysia is the single largest exporter of solar panels to the US…absolutely there’s no reason why Bangladesh can’t be a major solar panel producer not only for the needs of Bangladesh but also for exports. You have all the necessary ingredients and tremendous human resource. I think it’s extremely important as we’re trying to reduce carbon emission in the world,” Sundaram said.
“There is no scope to take contemporary action in-between the SDGs,” he noted.
He also suggested the Bangladesh government make collective efforts with countries like China to bring more investment in the renewable energy sector.
He went on saying, “You can’t rely on market loan to solve the problems. The government needs to intervene and needs some collective actions to make progress.”
The Malaysian expert said, unfortunately, the use of chemical, pesticides and agro-chemicals has affected the food safety in many countries.
“We’re all consuming these foods and our bodies will be affected soon or later.”
The sea-level rise will have a profound impact not only on the future of the countries but also the future of the agriculture, he said.
He said some two billion people suffer micronutrient deficiencies and 45 per cent of 6.9 million child deaths annually linked to malnutrition. Some 2.1 billion people are overweight and suffer obesity.
About Bangladesh’s development in the health sector, he said Bangladesh has been very successful in building pharmaceuticals industry. The two largest generic pharmaceuticals producers and exporters are actually India and Bangladesh. “This is a very important development.”
Talking about inequalities, he said inequalities increased sharply between the 20 richest countries and the 20 poorest countries, including Bangladesh. “Capital flow occurs from the poor countries to the rich ones mostly through mispricing and tax evasion,“ he said.