Bangladesh's development offers lessons for region

Despite comparatively slow economic growth, the country has been able to make remarkable strides in improving quality of life. Its success has led many in the region to pay closer heed to the Bangladeshi model for social development.

By Udayan Namboodiri for Khabar South Asia New Delhi

September 25, 2013
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Bangladesh, once ranked among the world's most impoverished nations, has made impressive strides in recent years -- a fact highlighted in an International Monetary Fund report released earlier this year.

  • An eight-month-old Indian baby suffering from diarrhoea lies on a bed at a government children's hospital in Allahabad on May 20th. Although India's economy is growing at a faster rate, Bangladesh has surpassed its neighbour when it comes to reducing child mortality, experts say. [Sanjay Kanojia/AFP]

    An eight-month-old Indian baby suffering from diarrhoea lies on a bed at a government children's hospital in Allahabad on May 20th. Although India's economy is growing at a faster rate, Bangladesh has surpassed its neighbour when it comes to reducing child mortality, experts say. [Sanjay Kanojia/AFP]

Of particular note is its pace of development in relation to its giant neighbour, India. While robust economic growth in India has translated into significantly improved social indicators, Bangladesh has succeeded in reducing child mortality, fostering higher life expectancy and ensuring gender equality.

Remarkably, dramatic progress has been made even though Bangladesh's economy is sluggish compared to India's.

The IMF report, released in January, found the country is on track to meet all eight of its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by the target year of 2015.

"Bangladesh demonstrates that it is possible to have superior social outcomes at lower per capita incomes and lower rates of economic growth. There is more to social development than just Gross Development Product (GDP)," Indian Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told Khabar South Asia.

In just over twenty years, Bangladesh has managed to bring half of its poor above the poverty line. The poverty rate, which was 56.6% in 1992, was 31.5% in 2010 – the most recent year for which data is available.

The number of children affected by malnutrition and general population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption is also dropping steadily, the IMF reported. Bangladesh is also set to achieve 100% school completion, and has achieved parity when it comes to the ratio of girls to boys in secondary education.

"In most of the social indicators Bangladesh has gone ahead of India," Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen told Al Jazeera. "The lesson here is about focusing on women and not just by state policy but also by non-government organisations."

Comparisons between the two South Asian nations can be misleading. The quality of life differs greatly across various parts of India, which comprises dozens of states and union territories. Certain states – such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Punjab – boast standards of life far superior to those seen in Bihar, West Bengal or Chhattisgarh.

Yet Bangladesh compares favourably even to these more developed states, economists say.

"The infant mortality rate and the under-five mortality rate in Bangladesh are better than 13 large Indian states, including much richer Indian states like Gujarat, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh," economist Jean Dreze, who is a member of India's National Advisory Council, told Khabar. "The proportion of children that are underweight is also lower in Bangladesh compared to six Indian states, including richer Gujarat."

Ramesh, the Indian minister Jairam Ramesh, agreed that more and more Bengalis are enjoying a quality of life that surpasses even well-off parts of India.

"Bangladesh's per capita GDP after adjustment for purchasing power parity in 2012 was only $1,585, roughly half of India's ($3,419). But in terms of social dimensions, its performance is better than even the richest states of India which perform better than the national average," he told Khabar.

According to Farooq Sobhan, a former Bangladesh foreign secretary, social progress has come about as a result of social change – including the transformation of the deeply-embedded traditional mindset.

"I think Bangladesh holds out many lessons. Our emphasis on women as the centre of the community has paid off," Sobhan told Khabar. "Through microcredit loans rural women invested more in the education and health of children than men. Economic emancipation for women led to better-fed children and daughters finishing school. This would not have happened if the traditional patrician society had been left undisturbed."

Former Indian Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, meanwhile, believes Bangladesh has outperformed India because of its emphasis on public spending.

"Though Bangladesh is much smaller than India, its government's outlay for education and health as a proportion of its overall spending is the same as India's. This is amazing. And what's more, its fiscal deficit is much lower than ours," Joshi told Khabar.

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  • Anwarul Azim PatwarySeptember 25, 2013 @ 09:09:13PM

    Feeling proud

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