Bangladesh’s uneven economic growth is a puzzle that continues to mystify the economists. A new study aimed at charting the development landscape of the country has revealed what was, frankly, known to many of us already: that despite impressive national growth, poverty has increased in the country, with considerable disparities in regional development and per-capita income. While certain regions like Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet saw continued progress, certain other regions like Rangpur, which has three times more poverty than those three divisions, remain backward. The level of disparity in different districts, as shown by the official data, is stupefying. We wonder why not enough policy attention is being given to this even though inclusive regional development has been high on the government’s agenda for long.
Part of the blame for regional disparities, of course, goes to the centralised, often politically motivated allocation of development funds and resources. Equitable distribution of resources is paramount for inclusive development. Equally important, however, is to fix our top-down development strategy that favours the rich because unless we do so, even an increased allocation for a certain backward region will end up mostly benefiting those with greater access to resources, thereby depriving the poor.
There is no denying that poverty and inter- and intra-regional development disparity have grown concomitantly in Bangladesh. We cannot address one without addressing the other. Often it is seen that lack of work opportunities in the poorer regions triggers migration to Dhaka and other relatively developed regions (and even outside the country, often illegally). This, in turn, hurts the economic prospects of the receiving regions too. The government must address these issues of inequalities and disparities as a matter of priority because for any development to be inclusive and sustainable, it’s important that everyone, rich or poor, gets a fair share of it.