Human Development Challenge
Bangladesh is earnestly pursuing human development goals to better the lot of its masses.
The country is moving fast towards achieving MDGs.
Unlike the past, Bangladesh is no more a poverty stricken country but according to critics it is still behind in achieving the UN millennium development goals (MDG) outlined in 2000. The current prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was holding the same office when the MDGs were presented. After a decade and a half when she is again head of the government of Bangladesh, it will be interesting to analyze to what extent her country has accomplished the targets envisaged in MDGs and how she can play a pivotal role in achieving the vision of human development. In view of its impressive record to achieve MDGs, can Bangladesh emerge a role model in human development and what are the obstacles for eradicating poverty and underdevelopment in that South Asian country?
Human development is a wholesome approach which, however, focuses on improving the quality of life of the people and emancipating them from key social ills. As far as the Millennium Development Goals as outlined in the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000 are concerned, nine goals were identified which had to be accomplished by 2015. In September 2000, 189 countries signed the UN Millennium Declaration to achieve the MDGs..
Although the goals seemed quite ambitious for 2015 in view of bad
governance and rampant corruption prevailing in many countries of the global south, it will be interesting to examine how Bangladesh as a Least Developing Country (LDC) managed to strive for the accomplishment of such goals within the stipulated timeline.
There are two opinions about Bangladesh’s accomplishment of MDG. First, is the stance taken by the Bangladeshi government that despite impediments, the performance has been good. The second opinion, which also consists of independent analysts, argues that no plausible change has occurred in Bangladesh in the last 15 years in terms of improving the quality of life of the people and the concentration of wealth is a major issue obstructing the goals of human development.
According to a report entitled, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Review of Bangladesh’s Achievement by A. R. Bhuyan, “while Bangladesh seems to be on track to achieve some of the MDGs such as universal primary education and gender parity, the prospects to other areas appear doubtful. Bangladesh has made reasonably good progress in its efforts at reducing poverty. The decline in poverty was more rapid in the 1990s than during earlier decades. Poverty reduction in the first half of the current decade was also somewhat faster than in the 1990s. The MDGs target for Bangladesh is to bring poverty down to 25%.”
Poverty is rooted in the cultural dynamics of Bangladesh and the socalled prosperity which is observed in that country despite enormous inflow of remittances and more than 20 billion dollars of the export of garments only tends to have a trickledown effect on the mainstream population which still lacks better quality of life.
In the areas of Universal Primary Education, which is a major goal under the MDGs, Bangladesh has done well. There is great deal of scope for raising both the net primary enrollment rate and the primary completion rate in Bangladesh with a package of intervention that includes economic growth, expansion of adult male and female schooling, improved roads and transport, and greater coverage of government programs, such as the Primary Education Stipends Program.” Bangladesh seems to have made remarkable progress in the last 15 years on MDGs of Achieving Gender Equality and empowerment of Women.
Elimination of gender disparity and discrimination is the age-old dream of this world. Bangladesh has made strides in empowering women, particularly those living in rural areas. Here one cannot undermine the role and contribution of Dr. Mohammad You us, Nobel laureate in three major areas of improving the quality life of the common people: providing micro credit financing to the poorest of the poor; helping rural population in earning their livelihood by starting small businesses through micro credit financing program under the Grameen Bank; empowerment of women.
It is a pity that a person with the stature of Dr. Mohammad Younus became a target of victimization under the present regime. Not only he was ridiculed but the Awami League government resorted to measures against the Grameen Bank and his programs for human development.
In the concluding analysis of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Review of Bangladesh’s Achievement, it is argued that, “Bangladesh seems to be on track to achieve some of the UN millennium development goals such as primary school enrollment and gender parity.
A recent UNDP reports says that Bangladesh could be a role model for UNDP by showing that sustained improvement in human development is possible even in poor countries at relatively modest levels of income growth. Identifying impediments to take the goals of UN’s MDGs to their logical conclusion, the report is of the opinion that, “at least two impediments are obvious. One is the country’s institutional inability to effectively implement policies and programs, given the abysmal record of poor governance in terms of inefficiency and corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, and above all poor law and order conditions. The other constraint is that limited domestic resources that will fall far short of the requirement to implement programs to implement the MDGs. Moreover, the country will need a lot more resources to achieve some non-MDG targets such as the development of infrastructure, improved management of power and ports, and achievement of a better investment climate, without which economic growth and consequently poverty alleviation efforts will suffer.”
The regime of Sheikh Hasina blames the politics of agitation launched by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-i-Islami which caused a serious damage to the economy of the country. But, the agitation lasted for few months early 2014 and in the so-called second term of Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League government has a free hand and faces no political obstacle or challenge as far as implementing the MDGs is concerned.
Commenting on the performance of Bangladesh in achieving MDGs, Dr. Shahed Imran while writing in Daily Star, Dhaka argues that, “one of the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set, Bangladesh is well on its way to becoming a role model of success in achieving these goals. With consistent dedication and support from national and international developing partners, the country sees a brighter future for the people. Bangladesh has received support from international and national partners in its long battles to attain the MDG.” In view of its remarkable performance in attaining MDGs, six countries including Bangladesh received the UN Millennium Development Goal Awards for their significant achievements towards attaining the goal. Three of these countries are from Asia and the rest of the three are from Africa.
Some positive reflections about Bangladesh’s track record on the UN’s MDGs were discussed in a report entitled Millennium Development Goals & Bangladesh compiled by Mohammad Amanullah of East-West University, Dhaka that “Bangladesh has made significant steps forward in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) predominantly in poverty alleviation. The aim was to trim down poverty to 29 percent by the year 2015. Two years in advance of time in 2013, it has been achievable to bring this down to 26.2 percent.” Nine other indicators which have been identified for sustaining the process of human development in Bangladesh are: registration in primary education, reduction of infant mortality, immunization, maternal mortality reduction, prevalence of HIV, treatment of children under five years of age for malaria, reduction of death rates due to tuberculosis and access to drinking water.
With ambitious goals outlined for ameliorating the socio-economic conditions of the people of Bangladesh, the real challenge rests not only with the UN and the Bangladeshi government but also with thousands of national and international non-governmental organizations based in that country. So far, Bangladesh has been able to do well in accomplishing MDGs to a large extent, but what is needed is to improve the mode of governance, eradicating corruption and the culture of strikes which derail the process of human development in that country.
The writer is Professor and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi and Director, Program on Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. The writer is Dean, Faculty of Arts, at Karachi University.