As Bangladesh looks forward to its next 50 years, significant human development challenges remain for the country. Some of these challenges are persistent challenges, such as poverty and gender inequality; some exacerbate challenges, such as inequalities and climate change; but some are, without a doubt, emerging challenges, like human security and the Covid-19 pandemic. The global scenario also has an impact on the human development challenges for Bangladesh, which require different strategies and institutions.
In 2019, around 34 million people were still living in income poverty in Bangladesh. More than one in four children are stunted and more than one in five are underweight. In Bangladesh in 2018, there was one doctor for every 2,000 people, one nurse for 2,500 people and one hospital bed for 1,250 people. About 45% of people did not have safely managed drinking water services in 2019 and 22% were without electricity. More than half of those who are employed are in vulnerable employment.
Over the years, Bangladesh has been able to quantitatively expand its basic social services. Yet the quality of these services remained a persistent concern. This is particularly true of health and education services. For example, in the health sector, there are service systems at three levels: public services (intended for ordinary people), private services (intended for the middle and upper middle classes) and services across borders. (used by the wealthiest class). Even though there have been expansions in terms of quantity, public health services are severely deprived of resources and facilities and, as a result, poor and marginalized people do not benefit from quality services. This means that service extensions have been made with qualitative compromises.
Bangladesh has nearly 30 million young people of working age, but only 30 percent of the total employed in Bangladesh are young people. Given the current situation and the demographic dividend projected until 2030, securing jobs for people, especially young people, remains a persistent challenge. Moreover, as the content and organization of jobs change rapidly, preparing our young people for a globalized digital economy of the 21st century is a huge task.
Over the years, although remarkable progress has been made in the area of women’s empowerment, women still face several deprivations, often solely because of their gender. About 60 percent of women in the 20 to 24 age group marry at 18. About 58 percent of women experience domestic violence from their intimate partners. In addition, for every 100 unemployed young men, there are 150 unemployed young women. Among STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates, only eight percent are women. One in three women does not have access to financial institutions offering mobile banking services. Therefore, empowering women remains a persistent human development challenge for Bangladesh.
Inequality has become the defining problem of Bangladeshi society and, as such, has become a growing challenge. In Bangladesh, the Gini income index, a measure of income inequality, fell from 0.39 in the early 1990s to 0.48 in 2016, suggesting an increasingly unequal distribution of income over time. time. But inequalities have also increased in areas unrelated to income, such as health, education, ownership of natural resources, etc. In addition, there are inequalities not only in terms of outcomes, but also in terms of opportunities – in health and education, as well as in productive resources, such as credit.
Another growing challenge for Bangladesh is climate change. Climate change-induced extreme weather events are estimated to have caused an estimated annual loss of GDP of USD 1.7 billion. Loss of arable land and livelihoods, displacement of people, loss of agricultural production and food insecurity are caused by increased frequency and intensity of various natural disasters, induced by climate change. Indeed, climate change affects physical and social environments, knowledge, assets, etc. For example, in areas prone to salinity and drought, there are severe deprivations of potable water, which can lead to serious health problems for the population. Access to resources, capacities and opportunities intensifies the risks. In the final analysis, climate change is not only an environmental challenge, but it has become an increasingly deep human development challenge for Bangladesh.
Over the years, Bangladesh’s governance and institutional structure has suffered on three fronts: inefficiency and inefficiency, corruption and leakage, and lack of transparency and accountability. The quality of governance depends on issues such as the rule of law, oversight function, judicial independence, appointments and promotions of public officials based on meritocracy, transparency and accountability. Concerns have been raised in these areas as human development challenges escalate for Bangladesh.
Like any other country, the Covid-19 pandemic is shaping up to be an unprecedented emerging human development crisis for Bangladesh. This could erode the human development gains the country has made in recent years. Despite the nearly 34 million people already living in poverty in Bangladesh, Covid-19 (through its economic repercussions) could push an additional 30 million people into poverty. The country could also lose a total of 1.1 million to 1.6 million jobs for young people, depending on the containment of the virus. As of June 2020, a total of 70,000 workers had lost their jobs in the garment industry in Bangladesh. The Covid-19 has already exposed the fragility of the health system, which could become more vulnerable in the coming days. Education based on information technology can generate more inequalities because children in rural areas or poor households will not have access to this technology. Covid-19 will also have asymmetric impacts on women in terms of formal work in the economy as well as the burden of their domestic and care work. This can lead to more friction and domestic violence due to blockages. All of this inevitably has serious consequences for people’s mental health.
In recent times, issues of democratic space, popular participation, intolerance and violence in society have been identified as emerging threats to human development in Bangladesh. All of this has serious repercussions on personal safety. The wealth, wealth and power biases of the system made the situation worse. In many cases, terror has become our culture and violence our language.
The global economic system has become more fragile and withdrawn due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As economic growth in the rest of the world (including developed countries) slows, Bangladesh can be negatively affected in three ways. First, the demands for its clothes and unskilled workers in the Middle East may decline. Second, there may be the imposition of non-tariff trade restrictions by the developed world, and finally, there will be less opportunity for concessional aid or subsidies. All of this will reduce the resources available for human development in Bangladesh. Addressing Bangladesh’s human development challenges – whether persistent, deep-rooted or emerging – will require both political actions and institutional reforms.
Selim Jahan is former Director, Office of Human Development Report and Poverty Division, UNDP