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Click for detailed mapOver the last 10 years Bangladesh has made impressive gains in key human development indicators. In the 2004 UNDP Human Development Report, Bangladesh ranked 138 among 177 countries with an HDI score of 0.509, which places it among countries considered to have achieved medium human development. This is the result of macroeconomic stability, low population growth, increase in women’s empowerment, reduction in aid dependence, food self-sufficiency, effective disaster management capacity, promoting non-governmental organisations (NGOs), free and fair parliamentary elections, a vibrant, pluralist, democratic civil society marked by cultural activism and developmental debates, and an active and free press.

Through the adoption and implementation of sound policies and strategies, Bangladesh has managed to sustain a large measure of economic stability and macroeconomic growth. Throughout the 1990s, the economy grew by an average of 4.75 percent per year. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita has grown steadily from US$ 273 in 1990-91 to US$ 441 (or $1400 in PPP). As a result, the Human Poverty Index for Bangladesh fell from 61 in 1983 to 42.2, an achievement that was all the more remarkable given that the pace of income poverty reduction was only one percent point per year. Nonetheless 63 million people continue to live below the poverty line. There has, however, been a steep decline in the number of hardcore poor from 36.75 percent in 1983-83 to just under twenty percent or approximately 30 million people. Despite these significant achievements, much will need to be done to ensure the right to survival and to achieve the MDG target of halving the proportion of the poor, and the hungry and malnourished.

The UNDP Gender Development Index (GDI) for 2004 ranked Bangladesh 110 among 144 countries, an increase of 13 positions since 1999. This improvement reflects a closing of the gap between men and women in key indicators such as life expectancy. However, a GEM ranking of 76 shows continued low levels of female representation in government, in decision-making positions and in ownership of economic assets. A significant gender disparity persists in both income and human poverty, especially at the lower end of income distribution. The female disadvantage in child mortality has remained persistent, while the female-male gap in acute malnutrition has increased over the past decade. On average the incidence of severe malnutrition among girls under five is 2-4 percent higher than among boys. Similarly, compared to male-headed households, female-headed households are more likely to be living in extreme poverty. Overall, Bangladesh’s performance with regard to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG 4) remains mixed. There has been a narrowing of the gender gap in most social MDG indicators in general and in the education sector in particular, where, as a result of targeted government policies, female enrolment rates in primary and secondary schools exceeds those for males. However, in other areas such as economic and political participation and adult literacy, much still remains to be done to ensure the rights to survival, livelihood and participation.

Significant investments in disaster preparedness, including the development of early warning systems and the creation of a wide network of flood and cyclone shelters, has seen a significant decrease in the number of lives lost each year. However, natural disasters are still responsible for significant property losses with major consequences for the poor. There is therefore scope for continued improvement in terms of disaster mitigation and recovery that is targeted to the most vulnerable populations.

Bangladesh has made significant strides in lowering its population growth rates. The current population is estimated at around 140 million. While total fertility rates have been in decline over the last twenty years, this decline appears to have plateaued though further research is required to identify the exact causes. Since 1996 a gradual increase in TFR among poorer households has been observed. A number of factors that could explain this increase include low educational levels, continued son preference, high infant mortality, weak implementation of gender rights and the lack of alternative economic opportunities.

Infant mortality has declined steadily from 92 per thousand live births in 1992 to 53 in 2002. Similarly, under-five mortality rate (U5MR) has declined from 144 per thousand live births in 1990 to 76 in 2002. There continue to be urban-rural differences in under-five mortality rates and a small difference in mortality rates between boys and girls. In order for Bangladesh to maintain progress towards meeting the child and infant mortality goals laid out in the MDGs a number of trends need to be sustained. This includes continuing to expand immunisation coverage to reach marginalized and hard-to-reach population and consolidating and strengthening efforts to control diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections. Increased attention is also required to further reduce neonatal mortality by ensuing that all pregnant mothers have access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants and to emergency obstetric care. Maternal mortality remains very high at around 320 per hundred thousand live births. Poor nutrition, poverty and a lack of access to health services contribute to some 20,000 maternal deaths each year.

Despite improvements in antenatal care, it will be a challenge to meet the goal of reducing MMR to 140 by 2015 because of a number of demographic trends. A third of Bangladesh’s population falls within the age group of 10-24 years. Nearly half the adolescent girls (15-19 years) are married, 57 percent become mothers before the age of 19, and half of all adolescent mothers are acutely malnourished. Efforts to provide adolescent girls with greater access to higher education through scholarship and stipend programmes while proven to be effective, will nonetheless take several years to have a meaningful impact on fertility rates, and by extension, MMR rates.

Bangladesh’s success in increasing primary school enrolment has been one of the most notable achievements of the last fifteen years and has played an important role in raising the country’s HDR scores. The gross enrolment rate in primary education in 2002 was 97 percent, though enrolment rates in urban slums and the CHT remain significantly lower. Bangladesh has more or less achieved gender parity in education at the primary school level. Despite these positive developments, one in five children are still not enrolled in school. Furthermore, while two thirds of those enrolled complete the five-year primary school cycle, upwards of 25 percent of children drop out before reaching the fifth grade though this is a significant improvement over the 38 percent drop out rate recorded in 1995. Under the most optimistic scenario of population stabilization by 2035, Bangladesh will need some US$1.7 billion to maintain current momentum and to achieve the MDG 2 by 2015. Thus, without significantly increased investments in the education sector, it is clear that ensuring the right to a secure livelihood will remain a challenge.

The 1999-2000 Labour Force Survey estimates that of the 74.2 million working age population (15 - 64 years), about 21.6 percent are employed for wages and salaries, a two percent increase since the 1995-96 LFS. However, while 33.9 percent of men work for wages, only 8.4 percent of women receive some form of remuneration. There are an estimated 7.4 million working children out of which 3.2 million children are child labourers. Twenty four percent of the working population is self-employed. Unemployment rates in Bangladesh, estimated at 4.3 percent, are comparatively low due to pervasive under-employment and the large number of people considered to be out of the labour force. Unemployment rates are high among the youth, especially among young men under the age of 30.

There has been a significant increase in the reports of violence across Bangladesh. Accurate information regarding the nature and extent of violence in the country remains scarce due to lack of data. There is, however, an emerging “culture of violence” which is of rising concern. Violence within the family remains the most under-reported crime in Bangladesh. Cases of marital violence are routinely labelled as “domestic disputes”, and as such do not merit assistance within families, let alone police intervention. This reflects, among other things, the existing patrimonial social structures that force woman into passive acceptance of violence. According to government statistics, one woman is subjected to violence every hour.

Though the Bangladesh Constitution is committed to the equality of rights of all citizens, there still remain significant sections of the population who are unable to realise their right to development. A part of the process will necessarily involve ensuring that the most marginalised and vulnerable groups – women, minorities, children and others – do not get left behind amidst an overall positive scenario. It is also important to focus on the guarantee of human security with the basic norms of justice as a pre-condition for human development. The commitment to a transparent government through the use of information technology for development is one means of promoting accountability. The decentralisation of administrative and financial responsibilities would help to accelerate the process. These are all important steps towards ensuring that citizens have ownership over the development process. Finally, it is necessary to focus on the crosscutting issues of good governance and environmental sustainability to ensure the achievement of the MDGs and national development objectives. In the circumstances, one of the biggest challenges to the Government remains ensuring the right to participation and protection of the people of Bangladesh.

Excerpted from: Bangladesh Common Country Assessment 2005

 
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