Over the last ten years Bangladesh has made impressive gains in key human development indicators. According to the 2008 UNDP Human Development Index Statistical Update, Bangladesh ranked 147 among 179 countries with an HDI score of 0.524, placing it among countries considered to have achieved medium human development. However, even though Bangladesh has taken considerable steps towards poverty alleviation, many challenges remain. More than 63 million people live below the poverty line, the constant threat of sudden shocks - natural and manmade - the uncertain impact of globalization and an increasingly competitive international trade environment impede higher growth rates. In addition, structural changes in rural Bangladesh have spurred rapid economic migration with the related complexities of rising urban poverty, lack of decent work and adequate shelter in urban areas. Bangladesh thus faces considerable challenges in order to sustain and build on the achievements of the last decade and to remain on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Bangladesh forms the Bengal delta region in the Indian subcontinent, where civilization dates back more than 4,300 years. The borders of present-day Bangladesh were established during the British-partition of Bengal and India in 1947, when the region became East Pakistan, part of the newly formed state of Pakistan. It was separated from West Pakistan by 1,600 km (994 mi) of Indian territory. Due to political, economic and linguistic discrimination, popular agitation and civil disobedience grew against the Pakistani state. Led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bengali people increasingly demanded self-determination, culminating in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh—was founded as a constitutional, secular, democratic, multiparty, parliamentary republic. After independence, Bangladesh endured periods of poverty and famine, as well as political turmoil and military coups. The restoration of democracy in 1991 has been followed by economic progress and relative political calm.
Geographically, modern Bangladesh straddles the fertile Ganges-Brahmaputra delta and has an ancient, historic and rich cultural heritage intertwined with the larger history of the Indian subcontinent. It is a pluralistic nation of religious and ethnic diversity. It is the world's eighth most populous country, as well as one of the world's most densely populated countries. The republic is a parliamentary democracy, with an elected parliament called the Jatiyo Sangshad. Bangladesh is a founding member of SAARC, of which it is a pioneer and vocal promoter, the Developing 8 Countries, BIMSTEC and BCIM, as well as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the OIC and the Non-Aligned Movement. Bangladesh is also the world's largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Bangladesh is undergoing substantial economic and social change, and this will intensify in the coming decades. Fundamental forces are in play – the end of the demographic transition, rapid industrialization and structural change, and substantial rural-urban migration. These processes will bring with them a host of developmental pressures. Chief among these are a suite of potential inequities, as the country moves to MIC status, the tendency towards differentiation in incomes and living conditions will continue. This is a by-product of the growth process, Bangladesh’s economic model and its basic geography. It is vital these are addressed if poverty reduction is to be maintained, and a host of future problems associated with social exclusion are to be avoided.
Environmental pressures, exacerbated by climate change, will remain significant and could easily worsen, if remedial actions, at the local and global level are not taken. While the population will stabilization at around 200 million, growing wealth and mass population movements will place further enormous strains on ecosystems and the living environment.
Better social service provision, especially in health and education, is also key to Bangladesh’s continuing ability to meet core welfare objectives. While the country has done well in meeting its headline MDG obligations, there remain serious weaknesses on the quality and durability of some outcomes. Major delivery questions must be addressed, through the improvement of public sector management and its governance. Given the tendencies to greater and more complex inequalities, there is a need to look beyond aggregate data - to service access and take-up of disadvantaged groups, and variations in the geographical foot-print of performance.
Economic growth and Bangladesh’s economic model have remained pro-poor. Substantial reductions in the poverty rate, from around 50 per cent in 2000 to just over 30 per cent in 2010, alongside broad welfare improvements, have been secured. This is rooted both in basic conditions, relatively low inequality and the high level of labour intensity, and in successive Governments ensuring macroeconomic stability and growth promoting policies. With the global economic recovery, positive demographics and improving business and investor confidence, growth may accelerate above its current trend rate of 6 to 6 ½ per cent in the coming years.
Bangladesh retains a deep commitment to social solidarity and to a progressive development agenda. Many MDG successes, in areas ranging from poverty reduction to exceptional improvements in infant mortality, to greater gender equity have been secured. The Government has also shown itself, able to recognize delivery weaknesses and marshal resources accordingly. This is most clear in relation to maternal mortality, where a goal which was well–off track, secured a 30% reduction in deaths during child birth over a four to five year interval. This bodes well for future interventions to capitalize on MDG successes – such as social protection reforms, and improved access to healthcare and schooling.
On-going Government actions have greatly improved disaster preparedness and recovery. Given the extreme vulnerabilities faced, the country’s track record has been exceptional improving human security and saving lives. While extreme climatic events still sadly result in some fatalities, these have been reduced dramatically. This provides a sound basis for addressing allied and pressing questions of environmental sustainability.