THIS year, Bangladesh got the South-South Award for its noteworthy achievement on poverty reduction as well as ensuring food security for the people. Indeed, Bangladesh's success is remarkable not only in achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 -- eradicating extreme poverty and hunger -- much before the targeted timeframe of 2015, but also in MDG2 (achieving universal primary education), MDG3 (promoting gender equality and empowering women), MDG4 (reducing child mortality rates), MDG5 (improving maternal health), and MDG6 (combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases).
We are, however, not in front with MDG7 (ensuring environmental sustainability) and MDG8 (developing a global partnership for development). Failure in achieving MDG7 and MDG8 does not necessarily mean governance failure. Insufficient global cooperation and inequitable distribution of global fund for facing the challenges of climate change adaptation and environmental sustainability are evident.
There are problems with objectives and measurement, which need to be country specific, as well as with the goal set for the global partnership for development. We have made noteworthy progress in South-South cooperation, but reverse is true for North-South cooperation.
Data from Human Development Report 2013 -- The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World -- show that each of the notable countries in human development progress in the South, including Bangladesh, has its own history, identity, culture and strategies towards economic, social and human development. On one hand, these countries have achieved success in creating state regulatory and management systems alongside the interconnected cooperation, whereas, on the other, they have carefully as well strategically neglected the controversial Washington doctrine.
A recent report in The Economist (November 3, 2012) highlights that the belief that growth brings development with it -- the “Washington Consensus” -- is often criticised on the basis that some countries have had good growth but little poverty reduction, whereas Bangladesh embodies the inverse of that. In addition, a 2008 study by the World Bank, Finance for All? Policies and Pitfalls in Expanding Access, acknowledges that well-functioning financial systems contribute to growth, but raises the question, do poor households benefit proportionately from financial reforms that strengthen the economy generally? To what extent is emphasis on financial sector development as a driver of growth consistent with a pro-poor approach to development? In the case of Bangladesh, both answers are positive. The country has high poverty reduction rate and pro-poor development trends compared to that of its growth. The figure shows cross-country evidence of pro-poor development of Bangladesh.
According to The Economist -- same edition -- the poor account for roughly a fifth of the total loan portfolio of Bangladesh. The report adds the country spends a little more than most low-income countries on helping the poor. About 12% of public spending (1.8% of GDP) goes on social safety-nets to protect the poorest: food for works, cash transfers, and direct feeding programmes, which most poor countries do not have.
Furthermore, a special report on world economy in The Economist (October 13, 2012) stresses the concern over the increasing global trends of the Gini co-efficiency, even in Asia, particularly in China. Zanny Minton Beddoes, author of this special report, says: “Growing inequality is one of the biggest social, economic and political challenges of our time. But it is not inevitable.” It is commendable that Bangladesh is unlikely to face this unwelcome pattern of growth; and the gains of development and pro-poor achievement of Bangladesh go beyond its growth. Bangladesh, however, has passed several paradigms to reach this stage.
In the aftermath of the victory on December 16, 1971, reviving the economic and financial infrastructure of this war-born country was a great challenge for the national leaders. Sobhan, in Crisis of External Dependence: The Political Economy of Foreign Aid to Bangladesh (1982), points out that after independence Bangladesh had to accept an inherited debt liability of $483 million against the projects that were completed before independence and physically located on the territory of the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
So, the development of the first twenty years of the independent country was basically foreign aid based, when the focus was on relief, rehabilitation and repairing damages incurred during the Liberation War, followed by food security, country-wide infrastructure development and structural adjustment. Initial support came directly from India and Russia, while humanitarian support from other development agencies went under the coordination of United Nations Relief Operations in Bangladesh (UNROB). Furthermore, this challenge was intensified with the famine in 1974, assassination of the father of the nation in 1975, military coups in 1975 and 1982, devastating floods in 1998 and 2004, and so on.
Throughout the 1980s the dominant development support came from the World Bank under the structural adjustment policy of the IMF and World Bank, while other leading development partners were ADB and the government of Japan. Democratic regime started in early 1990s, and opened the door for growth and development, which are being progressively continued until now. Throughout the 1990s the dominant development assistance approach followed the policy lending, a revised discourse of structural adjustment policy (SAP) to development, which focused basically on the policy reforms as assistance on conditionality.
From 2002 onwards, the modality of foreign assistance was tailored under more flexible and less dominant conditionalities that could be negotiated in advance under the framework of poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) that allows policy dialogue with the local consultative groups and in the context of development partnerships.
Given this context, as pointed out in The Economist report (November 3, 2012), economic growth here since the 1970s has been poor, and the country's politics has been seeing upheavals; yet, over the past 20 years, Bangladesh has made some of the biggest gains in the basic condition of people's lives ever seen anywhere.
Human Development Report, 2013 (see September 23, 2013 OpEd on HDR in The Daily Star), MDGs Bangladesh Progress Report 2012, and winning of prizes and awards in recent years, including the South-South Award, MDG Award, Global Diversity Award, and the FAO Food Award, show that Bangladesh has made significant progress in achieving MDGs. This is particularly because of poverty reduction and ensuring food security, and focusing on three basic dimensions of human development -- a long and healthy life, educational attainment and command over the resources needed for decent living.
We need to celebrate this success despite the fact that the government has not succeeded in meeting people's expectations in all aspects. The prime minister said in her speech at the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly: “So, we need to be united in agreeing on a common set of the development agenda that would fulfill our aspiration in building a just, prosperous and sustainable world where no person or nation is left behind.” Given the post-MDGs aspiration, this is praiseworthy.
The same spirit needs to be upheld in our country so that the people really become the ends and means of democracy and development. The government needs to sacrifice much here for the sake of institutional democracy.
The writer is Senior Programme Manager at Institute of Governance Studies (IGS), Brac University.