Analysing Bangladesh’s progress in human resources development

There is no doubt that our life expectancy has increased but the big question is how healthy our lives would be. Then there is the question of ensuring wellbeing of elderly people. Taking care of the senior citizens could be a great challenge Anu Mahmud

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 recently.
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,”.
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,”, 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 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.”
Ultimately Bangladesh would have to increase its spending on social safety as well as improve the governance to achieve higher growth.
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, 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 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.”
Life expectancy at birth increased to 70.7 years last year in Bangladesh from 70.4 years in 2013, according to a survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
For women, life expectancy was 71.6 years and for men 69.1 years, says the survey titled Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2014.
Experts say this is a remarkable achievement that reflects an overall improvement of public health scenario in the country.
Life expectancy was 67.7 years in 2010 that rose to 69.0 years in 2011 and 69.4 years in 2012.
The total fertility rate per woman aged 15-49 remained unchanged at 2.11 for the last two years. The rate hovered between 2.11 and 2.12 since 2010.
AKM Ashraful Haque, project director of Monitoring the Situation of Vital Statistics Project of the BBS, presented the survey report at a seminar at Bangabandhu Internat­ional Convention Centre in the capital.
He said infant mortality rate dropped to 30 per 1,000 live births last year from 36 in 2010. Under-five mortality also decreased to 38 per 1,000 live births from 47 in 2010.
Maternal mortality ratio per 1,000 live births came down to 1.93 in 2014 from 2.16 in 2010. Besides, the rate of disability dropped to nine last year from 10.18 in 2010, says the survey.
Mean age at marriage for males increased to 25.9 years in 2014 from 23.9 in 2010. For females, however, it dipped to 18.3 years from 18.4.
Experts have lauded the progress in the demographic indicators, but say the country’s major challenge now is improving people’s quality of life.
Bangladeshis now live longer due to improvement in public health scenario. This would result in a rise in the number of the ageing population, which would put pressure on the country’s economy and the healthcare system, said Dr Abdur Razzaque, emeritus scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).
The country now has a huge number of young population, which would gradually go down, he said.
According to a 2014 report of the UN Population Fund, some 30 percent or 47.6 million of the 158.5 million Bangladeshis are young (10-24 years), and it will be between 10 and 19 percent by 2050.
Now that life expectancy has gone up, what needs to be done is improvement of people’s quality of life, Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive director of the Peoples’ Participation and Research Centre, told The Daily Star.
He said it is not desirable that a person would live for 70-odd years with illness.
At the seminar, Anuradha Narayan, chief of nutrition at Unicef, stressed the need for improving health status of women and children, especially among the poor, as Bangladesh is seeing rapid urbanisation.
She also emphasised maintaining accurate and updated data on demographic changes for the policymakers to make right decisions at the right time.
According to the BBS survey, Muslim population in the country was 89.2 percent last year, which was 89.5 percent in 2010. Hindu population dropped to 9.9 percent from 10 percent in 2010. Christians and other religious minorities accounted for only 0.9 percent of the country’s population last year.
It is cheering and encouraging that longevity of Bangladeshis which used to be around 59 in 1990 has steadily climbed to an average of 70.7 years in the last five years. It indicates that Bangladesh has made some remarkable gains in the basic condition of people’s lives.
The country’s economic development, which afforded a steady supply of food to the people from all walks of life, is believed to be the prime reason for increased life expectancy. The overall health indicators have also shown significant improvement across the country in the past few decades.
Infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have declined dramatically. Supply of nutritious food, clean drinking water and better control of non-communicable diseases, thanks to an extended healthcare coverage played a major role in this regard. Family planning and child vaccination have also worked wonders.
A note of caution, however, is that with increased life expectancy and adulteration of food, the disease burden would increase. Therefore, there is no doubt that our life expectancy has increased but the big question is how healthy our lives would be.
Then there is the question of ensuring wellbeing of elderly people. An increased longevity also means people would live longer in their retirement than the earlier generations. Taking care of the senior citizens and utilizing their experience and skill in the right directions could be a great challenge.
A recent trend that provokes profound concern is that family support for elderly people in our society is declining gradually. Everyone is not likely to treat their elderly parents with equal compassion. While some lack will and many others simply do not have the means.  Many elderly women are to live alone due to the death of their husbands. They are most vulnerable to poverty, disease and social abuse. So, there will be need for an increased number of elderly support centres, either run by the government or benevolent entities.
But above all, the young generation is expected to play their due roles in supporting the senior citizens.
Increased life expectancy also brings us some extra duties.