Steady progress shows hope

Bangladesh showed an extraordinary progress in human development index (HDI) with an average annual growth of 1.64 percent in the last two and a half decades, which is the highest among the eight South Asian countries.

Despite the progress, Bangladesh remains behind Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India on the latest global ranking with a static 142nd position in the HDI, according to the 2015 Human Development Report (HDR) released by the United Nations Development Programme at the planning ministry in Dhaka yesterday.

Among other South Asian nations, the annual growth of India in the HDI was 1.48 percent during 1990-2014, while the rate was 1.25 percent in Pakistan and 0.83 percent in Sri Lanka.

The UNDP put 188 countries in four categories on the index — very high, high, medium and low human development. Bangladesh, India and Bhutan remains in medium human development group, while Sri Lanka and the Maldives in high human development group and Nepal and Pakistan under low human development category.

Sri Lanka ranked 73rd in the latest HDI, while the Maldives 104th, India 130th, Nepal 145th and Pakistan 147th.

The UNDP publishes the annual assessment based on three broad elements — a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.

Selim Jahan, director of the Human Development Report Office of the UN and the lead author of the HDR 2015, gave a brief explanation on why Bangladesh’s rank remained static while presenting the report.

“It does not matter in which position Bangladesh is ranked. Despite doing well, Bangladesh’s rank remained static and it’s because other countries are doing better than Bangladesh,” he explained.

Eminent economist Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud said Bangladesh had been doing well in human development, but the recognition sometimes came quite late.

“Bangladesh has shown a third way in human development that was not recognised,” he said, adding that some countries such as South Korea and Sri Lanka made progress in human development by increasing income and spending on social safety.

“Even with low spending, Bangladesh has made progress on health and education indicators by adopting low-cost technology or solutions such as oral saline and diarrhoea treatment, which are the factors behind the improvement in child mortality,” he added.

He also said that the low-cost sanitation system in Bangladesh is better than that even in India. “Bangladeshi people can adopt any low-cost and new technology or solutions, and the country can be a role model for other developing nations.”

He, however, noted that ultimately Bangladesh would have to increase its spending on social safety as well as improve the governance to achieve higher growth.

Mahmud said Bangladesh’s economic growth so far had been driven by a “replication” approach, in respect of low-cost readymade garment export, export of low-skilled labour and expansion of microenterprise. “We need to switch from replication of innovation in terms of productivity and skill development.”

Selim Jahan said the per capita income of Bangladesh was still lower than that in India and Pakistan. “If we take the growth rate of the last 30 years, our position is below India and Pakistan. But we have achieved a life expectancy rate of 70 years, compared to 66 years in India and Pakistan.”

In terms of schooling, he said, Bangladesh is better than Pakistan. “Child mortality rate in Bangladesh is 41 per thousand, while the rate is 52 in India and 85 in Pakistan.”

Bangladesh has been most successful in translating its income into human development, compared with India and Pakistan, he added.

He also said that doing well did not mean there were no gaps in the country. “If we compare with India and Pakistan, we are progressing, but it does not mean that there is no poverty or disparity or inequality.”

According the HDR, Bangladesh’s gross national income per capita based on PPP (purchasing power parity) stood at $3,191 in 2014, while it was $5,497 in India and $4,866 in Pakistan.

During the same period, unemployment rate in Bangladesh was 4.5 percent, while it was 3.6 percent in India and 5 percent in Pakistan.

Supplementary indicators about perceptions of well-being showed that majority people in the country were satisfied with the healthcare, education quality and social security, and had trust in the national government.

Mohammad Mejbahuddin, senior secretary of Economic Relations Division, said Bangladesh was doing better than some other South Asian countries in human development, especially in health, education, social safety and new technology adoption.

He said the government was now focusing on accelerating the country’s growth through its 7th Five-Year Plan. “In the next five years, 9.9 million jobs will be created.”